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Convivial
Urban Spaces

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Convivial
Urban Spaces
Creating Effective Public Places

Henry Shaftoe

London Sterling,VA

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First published by Earthscan in the UK and USA in 2008


Copyright Henry Shaftoe, 2008
All rights reserved
ISBN:
978-1-84407-388-7
Typeset by Fish Books
Printed and bound in the UK by Cromwell Press,Trowbridge
Cover design by Rob Watts
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Earthscan publishes in association with the International Institute for Environment and Development
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Shaftoe, Henry.
Convivial urban spaces : creating effective public places / Henry Shaftoe.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-84407-388-7 (hardback)
1. Public spaces. 2. City planningSocial aspects. 3. ArchitectureHuman factors. I.Title.
NA9053.S6S53 2008
711.4dc22
2008001743
The paper used for this book is FSC-certified and
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Contents
1

Introduction .......................................................................................................1
Overview.................................................................................................................................................................1
Discussion................................................................................................................................................................4
Defining Convivial Spaces ..............................................................................................................................6

Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For? .........................11
Why Have Public Space and Who Is It For?....................................................................................11
Securing an Inclusive or Exclusive Urban Realm ...........................................................................16
Children and Public Space ..........................................................................................................................33
Addressing the Use of Public Space by Young People...............................................................39

What Makes a Space Convivial? ....................................................................47


Principles and Underpinnings....................................................................................................................47
The Psychology of Public Space..............................................................................................................51
Aesthetics Sensing the Character of an Area.............................................................................56
Important Influences on the Use of Public Space........................................................................64
Size, Shapes and Types of Public Space...............................................................................................73

How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces? ...................81
Designed or Evolved? ....................................................................................................................................81
Case Study: Ciutat Vella, Barcelona ............................................................................................................88
Comfort.................................................................................................................................................................92
Case Study: Berlin............................................................................................................................................107
Joy...........................................................................................................................................................................111
Case Study: Bristol...........................................................................................................................................122
Managing and Maintaining Public Spaces.........................................................................................125
Case Study: Padua...........................................................................................................................................130
Case Study:York................................................................................................................................................134
Conclusion:The Constituents of Conviviality.............................................139
References and Bibliography ........................................................................145
Index ...............................................................................................................151

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Acknowledgements

All photographs are by the author, unless otherwise acknowledged.


I would like to thank the following people who have helped, in various ways, with the research
and production of this book:Tamsine ORiordan, Michele Lavelle, Francesc Guillen, Clara
Quintana, Lorenzo Segato and Jamie Roxburgh.

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CHAPTER ONE

Introduction

his is not just an urban design book, nor is it a social policy book or
management guide in fact it is a bit of all three plus some more.The
challenge in creating and maintaining successful public spaces is to achieve
an integrated approach, which includes design and management set within
the broader context of urban policy. Many books have been written about
public space from a design (usually visual) point of view and some books
have been written from a policy viewpoint. I have undertaken the rather
daunting task of straddling several disciplines, because I feel that only by
taking this multifaceted approach will we succeed in producing more
convivial spaces. As Ken Worpole, one of the most prolific and perceptive
writers about public space, observes: Given the deep social and economic
nature of the circumstances that underpin or undermine a vibrant
community and public space culture, it is clear that design or architecture
alone cannot solve these problems, though in many places there is still a
pretence that they can (quoted in Gallacher 2005 p11).

Overview
Why, when we have more overall wealth
with which to potentially enrich spaces and
places for citizens to enjoy, have we often
produced built environments that are bland
or ill-conceived for public use and, in some
cases, positively unpleasant?

What kind of public spaces do people prefer


to be in? This book aims to tease out what
gives some places personality and
conviviality, so that we can learn from the
past and present to design, maintain and
manage better quality built environments in
future.

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Drawing on theory, research and illustrated


case studies, this book identifies the factors
that draw people to certain places. In the
1960s and 70s there was considerable
published discussion about what
differentiates livable urban environments
from unpleasant (and subsequently
problematic) ones (see for example Jacobs
1961, Cullen 1961, Rapoport 1977).This
important debate about the form and nature
of successful spaces and places appears to
have been superseded by narrower technical
discussions about physical sustainability,
security, management and aesthetics.

Many studies of the urban fabric (including a


number written by this author) start with an
analysis of what is wrong, but this book will
also look at what is right and see if there are
any replicable formulas for successful public
spaces and places.

Figure 1 Unconvivial: Dublin docks area


redevelopment

Figure 2 Unconvivial: Causewayside, Edinburgh

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Introduction

Figure 3 Convivial: Freiburg, Southern Germany


Figure 4 Convivial: Camden Lock, London

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Discussion
I have spent most of my professional career
working in or visiting the most unpopular
and degrading parts of towns and cities, in an
(often futile) attempt to help them improve.
But in my travels to many towns and cities
both here and abroad I have also tried to
look at the flip side what it is about some
places that makes me feel good in them?
There has been a recent interest in making
better public places, emanating both from
the British Government (e.g. through their
support for the Commission for Architecture
in the Built Environment [CABE]) and the
built environment professions (e.g. the Urban
Design Group). In America, the drive for
better place-making is spearheaded by the
New York-based Project for Public Spaces
Figure 5 Siena, Italy

and we now have the European Centre on


Public Space driving a similar agenda on this
side of the Atlantic.This has led to various
guides on place-making (e.g. the Good Place
Guide and various CABE briefings). But this
guidance is based on what professional
designers consider a good place. Less
research has been undertaken into what
ordinary citizens want from their public
spaces and what they perceive as good
places to be in (i.e. convivial spaces).This
book is based on a multidisciplinary
understanding of what makes certain public
spaces more successful than others and
draws on user feedback as well as
professional opinion and academic research.
I have coined the term convivial spaces to
describe open, public locations (usually squares
or piazzas) where citizens can gather, linger or
wander through. In some cases, such as Stroget

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(the famous walking street) in Copenhagen,


streets and their associated open areas can be
convivial spaces.Convivial is defined in
dictionaries as festive, sociable, jovial and fond
of merry-making, usually referring to people,
but it can equally apply to a situation. Famously,
Ivan Illich used the term in the title of his
seminal work Tools for Conviviality. Places where
people can be sociable and festive are the
essence of urbanity.
Without such convivial spaces, cities, towns
and villages would be mere accretions of
buildings with no deliberate opportunities
for casual encounters and positive
interactions between friends or strangers.
The trouble is that too many urban
developments do not include such convivial
spaces, or attempts are made to design them
in, but fail miserably.

However, convivial public spaces are more


than just arenas in which people can have a
jolly good time; they are at the heart of
democratic living (Carr et al 1992) and are
one of the few remaining loci where we can
encounter difference and learn to
understand and tolerate other people
(Worpole and Greenhalgh 1996). Without
good urban public spaces, we are likely to
drift into an increasingly privatized and
polarized society, with all its concomitant
problems. Despite some improvements in
urban development during the last couple of
decades, we still produce many tracts of
soulless urban fabric that may deliver the
basic functional requirements of shelter, work
and leisure but are socially unsustainable and
likely generators of future problems.

Figure 6 Brent, North London

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Convivial Urban Spaces

There are far too many sterile plazas and


windswept corners that are spaces left over
from another function (such as traffic
circulation or natural lighting requirements
for tall buildings).This phenomenon is
sometimes referred to as SLOAP space
left over after planning. Urban land is at a
premium, so in a profit-orientated society,
space where people can just loaf around is
not seen as a financial priority. Furthermore,
contemporary worries about security,
litigation and stranger danger result in the
urban realm becoming increasingly privatized
and controlled.
Some town centres (e.g. Dallas,Texas) and
suburbs have more or less given up on
informal communal spaces altogether, on the
presumed basis that they are costly to
manage and might attract the wrong kind of
person or usage.This privatized retreat has
reached its apotheosis in the gated
community where no one, apart from
residents and their approved guests, is
allowed to enter. Can such places be
genuinely described as civilized?
In this book I suggest that there is no single
blueprint for a convivial space, but there do
seem to be some common elements, which
may be broadly categorized under the
headings of physical (including design and
practical issues), geographical (location),
managerial, sensual (meaning how a space
directly affects one or more of our five
senses) and psychological (how the space
affects our mind and spirit).

The book is structured to flow from the


theoretical and political to the practical. So
early sections cover the whys and
wherefores of public space before moving
on to principles and then some specific
proposals and examples.

Defining Convivial
Spaces
Francis Tibbalds, in his seminal work Making
People-friendly Towns (1992), suggests that
such places should consist of a rich, vibrant,
mixed-use environment, that does not die at
night or at weekends and is visually
stimulating and attractive to residents and
visitors alike. John Billingham and Richard
Cole, in their Good Place Guide (2002), chose
case studies that answered affirmatively to
the following questions: Is the place
enjoyable is it safe, human in scale, with a
variety of uses? Is it environmentally friendly
sunlit, wind and pollution-free? Is it
memorable and identifiable distinctive? Is it
appropriate does it relate to its context? Is
access freely available?
Given that many convivial places seem to
have grown organically through an
accumulation of adaptations and additions,
can we design such places at the drawing
board? Critics of formal architecture and
planning such as Bernard Rudofsky
(Architecture without Architects [1964]) and
Christopher Alexander (The Timeless Way of

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Building [1979], A Pattern Language [1977])


suggest that we are better off growing good
places and spaces, rather than trying to build
them from a blueprint this is discussed in
Designed or Evolved? in Chapter 4 (page
81).There are some ancient and modern
examples to suggest that it is possible to
design convivial places as a whole, but they
tend to be relatively small in scale.The post1947 culture of master-planning whole urban
areas is less likely to accommodate the fine
grain, local nuance and adaptability that seem
to be at the root of convivial places.
You may disagree with me about the kind of
places that are convivial; you may enjoy the
buzz of a much more hard-edged, clean and
symmetrical environment, such as Canary
Wharf (London) or La Dfense (Paris).You
may even enjoy spending time wandering
around the closely supervised and sanitized
spaces of out-of-town shopping malls such as
Cribbs Causeway near Bristol and Bluewater
in Kent; many do, but for what reasons? And
why do other people loathe such places?
There are many such questions to be
answered about the effect of different places
on different people.
The rest of this book attempts to unpack
the various factors and observations,
outlined above, that constitute convivial
spaces. By understanding what the
ingredients of a successful public space are,
we should be able to create more good
ones, avoid constructing more bad ones and
remedy some of the already existing bad
ones. I recognize that good urban design is a

crucial factor in all this, but unlike many


books on the subject, I also stress the
significance of management and geography
and how all these objective factors affect our
senses and psychology. Ultimately, conviviality
is a subjective feeling, underpinned by, but
not to be confused with, the actual physical
state of a place.
This book is not an exercise in cosy
nostalgia. Examples will be given of
comparatively recent unplanned places that
have considerable personality and recent
developments or redevelopments that have
transcended the sterility of many modern
built environments. Although arguing for a
more humane approach to urban
development that encourages positive
social interaction, this is not based only on
the authors whims but aims to be
scientifically balanced and academically
rigorous, based on a multidisciplinary
understanding of the functioning and
perception of the built environment,
drawing on theory and research from
environmental psychology, sociology,
anthropology and urban design.
Because of my background, experience and
cultural heritage, I mostly refer to urban
spaces in Europe. It could be claimed that
Europe has the longest history and most
sophisticated experience of designed
public spaces (from classical Greece and
the Roman Empire onwards), but this
would be to downplay the importance of
public spaces in all cultures and
civilizations. Africa, India and the Far East

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Convivial Urban Spaces

all offer historic examples of fine and


popular public spaces, suggesting that the
need for convivial space is fundamental to
human nature:

Figure 7 Marrakech, North Africa


Source: Kathryn Smith

Figure 8 Campo Santa Margarita,Venice European


conviviality exemplified

You will also notice that many of the


photographs of peoples behaviour in public
spaces have been taken in my adopted
home town of Bristol.This is purely
opportunistic insofar as I regularly have
reason to walk through the streets and
squares of Bristol and I always carry a
camera in case of a chance encounter. And
as Edmund Bacon (1975) says: Only through
endless walking can the designer absorb into
his being the true scale of urban spaces
(p20). I would argue that the way people use
the public spaces of Bristol are not
fundamentally different to how they would
use them in Newcastle or Rotterdam, for
example, so I am not apologetic about using
so many images from my locality.
What follows is therefore a primarily Britishfocused, Eurocentric influenced, but I hope
not xenophobic, account of urban public
space.

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Introduction

In terms of structure, the book aims to flow


from the theoretical and general to the
practical and specific. However, with such a
multifaceted subject, there is bound to be
some overlapping and arbitrary ordering of
information and discussion. One thing that
will become immediately apparent is the
sheer number of photographs a deliberate
ploy, on the basis that photographs can often
tell you much more about public space than
any amount of text could. I also hope that
you will find inspiration (or in some cases
warning) from the sheer wealth of fascinating
public spaces that proliferate in so many
countries.You will note that (with the
exception of some photos of unsuccessful
spaces) nearly all the photographs have
many people in them.

Figure 9 Oval Basin: part of the new Cardiff Bay


redevelopment nice big space, but where are the
people?

This, to me, is the litmus test of conviviality


successful spaces have people lingering in
them. Ultimately, public spaces are about
people.This may sound like a platitude, but
there are still administrations and designers
who do not keep this as their central focus,
with the result that we end up with
impressive or monumental spaces that are
mostly empty or underused. What a waste
of space!
The main body of the book is divided into
three sections.The first section argues the
case for having public space and discusses
the social policies that affect the kind of
public spaces we have.The second section
covers the theories and principles that
influence the way we design and manage
public spaces.The third section aims to be a
more practical one, suggesting how we might
apply our knowledge to create or maintain
convivial urban spaces.The five case studies
aim to illustrate many of the points raised in
the various sections.

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CHAPTER TWO

Public Spaces Why Have


Them and Who Are They For?
Public Space is the playground of society;
the public realm is the playground in which society reinvents itself.
Bunschoten 2002 p6

Why Have Public


Space and Who Is
It For?

simulations of cyberspace become, they are


unlikely to be a total substitute for the buzz
and unpredictability of real life being played
out 360 degrees around you.

eports of the death of public space have


proven to be premature. As Kayden
(2005) notes: Corporeal public space has of
late taken something of an intellectual
beating in a world currently fascinated by
cyber-public-space and chastened by
declining civic virtues. Academic conferences
now ask the question, is public space dead?
Yet any observer of city streets and
sidewalks understands that urban residents,
employees and visitors are not ready just yet
to abandon physical space for more esoteric
worlds (p136). Indeed it could just be
because of the ascendancy of virtual realities
such as Sim City and Second Life that
people crave real encounters with other real
people in real environments. After all,
humans are a highly sociable species, on the
whole, and the company of others seems to
be fundamental to our sense of existence
and belonging. However sophisticated the

I should clarify what I intend to concentrate


on in this book. Public urban space can cover
a wide variety of situations, including libraries,
community centres and parks (see for
example Mean and Tims 2005). However, I
intend to concentrate predominantly on
small-scale open spaces in towns squares,
piazzas, plazas, pocket parks and some kinds
of street the kind of places that William
Whyte (1980) focused on for his
groundbreaking study in New York. I am
conscious that for a public space to be real it
has to be used. As Worpole and Greenhalgh
(1996) point out, many designers and
architects regard public space as the publicly
owned empty bits between buildings. Many
of these spaces are useless or dangerous and
abandoned, with the result that this renders
their definition as public space null and void
(p14).

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Why, if public spaces are so potentially


problematic, do we bother to have them at
all? This is where we enter the big concerns
of social policy. In an increasingly privatized
world, driven by free-market economics,
indeed public space can be seen as
somewhat of a liability, unless it can be used
as a locus for selling and consumption.
However, many commentators over the years
(including Lewis Mumford, Richard Sennett
and Ken Worpole, to name but a few) have
claimed that successfully functioning public
space is fundamental to the furtherance of
democracy and civilized life. Indeed Worpole
and Greenhalgh (1996) claim that:Public
space, we would argue, is now of central
political importance to questions of
sustainable, equitable and enriching urban life
(p25).
Large claims indeed surely public spaces
are no more than that places where the
general public are allowed? But it has been
noted by many that public spaces are
important for health, wellbeing, learning,
conflict resolution, tolerance and solidarity, to
mention but a few benefits. Little wonder
that governments from the extremes of the
political spectrum, whether totalitarian or
free-marketeers, find public space potentially
problematic.

urban residents and workers is becoming


critical in the light of increasing levels of heart
disease and obesity, resulting from more
sedentary lifestyles (National Heart Forum et
al 2007,Ward Thompson and Travlou 2007).
There is also a suggestion that they can
promote mental health and wellbeing too
(see for example Guite et al 2006,
Greenspace Scotland 2004). Possibly as a
result of our evolutionary heritage, humans
seem to need both social contact with others
and some access to greenery in order to
maintain psychological balance (see Wilson
1984, Kellert and Wilson 1993), both being
provided by good public spaces.This is
presumably why people go mad when held in
solitary confinement and why this is used as
the cruellest form of punishment.There is a
growing view that the success of good social
policy should not be measured by economic
gains but by improvements in wellbeing and
happiness of citizens (Layard 2005). Finbar
Brereton and colleagues at University College
Dublin, have found that environmental and
urban conditions are critical to peoples sense
of wellbeing:Location specific factors are
shown to have a direct impact on life
satisfaction (Brereton et al 2006 p2).
Therefore well-designed and well-managed
public spaces could contribute to overall
happiness surely a satisfactory end in itself
and the ultimate goal of enlightened policy?

Health and wellbeing


Urban public spaces offer obvious health
benefits insofar as city residents and workers
can get fresh air and exercise in them.This
requirement for healthy spaces accessible to

Learning
Insofar as effective public spaces are arenas
for the theatre of everyday life they offer
considerable social learning opportunities.

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

Because by definition they are universally


accessible, they offer one of the few
opportunities for people to directly
encounter other people with different
norms, behaviours and cultures. So, for
example, in the same city-centre space,
skateboarders may be observed by office
workers on their lunch-break and people of
different ethnicities and abilities can share a
bench.
People can thus learn about what makes up
their society and how other people can have
different attitudes, backgrounds and values.
This contrasts markedly with the experience
of (for example) visiting an IKEA store in an
out-of-town shopping mall where one mixes
with a homogeneous but segmented part of
the population.

Figure 10 Barcelona, Spain

In the more formal sense of learning, public


spaces are often used as arenas for
education (field visits) and research (the
ubiquitous interviewer with a clipboard,
found in so many urban spaces).

Conflict resolution, tolerance


and solidarity
Elsewhere in this book there is discussion
about the positive aspects of encountering
difference and potential conflict in public
space, but suffice to say at this point that
tolerance comes from close encounters with
other citizens, rather than stereotyping them
from monocultural enclaves. Public spaces
also offer opportunities to build up a sense
of solidarity with your fellow citizens, both
through ad-hoc encounters and through
organized events such as festivals and
demonstrations.

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Figure 11 St Enochs Square, Glasgow

Economic benefits
So much urban policy seems to be driven
these days by the desire to make profits
that it can be refreshing to claim that
public spaces are worth having for purely
non-fiscal reasons. However, convivial places
can also generate financial benefits, both
directly through sales of refreshments,
market produce and so on, but also
indirectly by making the towns where they
are located more popular visitor
attractions. The transformation of city

centres such as Melbourne in Australia


(Gehl and Gemzoe 2001) and Glasgow in
Scotland and their subsequent increases in
tourist visits are at least partly attributable
to improvements in their public spaces. In
its 2004 reports Please Walk on the Grass
and Does Money Grow on Trees? CABE
Space argues that, as well as social and
environmental value, good public spaces
increase property values and are good for
business.

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

Urban security

History, politics and the law

A later chapter will go into detail about


crime and safety in public spaces, but at this
stage it is worth pointing out that well-used
convivial places are the alternative to
downtown areas abandoned to criminals and
the socially rejected, as has happened in a
number of US cities.This is based on the
theories of having eyes on the street, first
espoused by Jane Jacobs (1961) and the
presence of capable guardians (see Felson
and Clarke 1998), i.e. crimes are less likely to
occur if potential offenders are aware that
there are law-abiding citizens in the area
who could witness, report or intervene.

I do not intend to reiterate the history of


public spaces, when others have done it well
already (see for example Bacons 1975 work
and Moughtins 1992 introductory chapter);
suffice to say that, at least since the ancient
Greek agora, open public places have been
at the heart of civilized urban life. Indeed, the
quality and extent of urban spaces could be
used as a litmus test for the state of various
societies political health (think of the great
parks of London in the 18th century and the
reclaiming of Copenhagens streets for
pedestrians in the 20th century.) Because
they are so important in civic life, public
spaces have also been subject to various
laws and controls, both positive and negative.
Positive legislation that has helped to further
the provision of public space includes the
British section 106 clause, which allows local
authority planning departments to negotiate
the provision of public space as a condition
of awarding planning permission to
developers, and the similar New York
incentive zoning scheme (see Kayden 2005).
Less encouraging legislation usually centres
around the control of public spaces by the
use of surveillance, dispersal orders,
exclusion orders, loitering laws and curfews.

Democracy
In democratic societies, public spaces are the
gathering places where the citizenry can
express their solidarity and also dissent.They
are the locations for demonstrations,
pamphleteering and soapbox orations; so
important for grassroots democracy. As
Denis Wood (1981) points out, public
spaces, particularly the less surveyed ones,
are where change is fermented and where
countermeasures are formulated. No
wonder that totalitarian regimes try to
control the use of public space by heavy
policing, surveillance and curfews. Famous
public spaces in non-democratic states (such
as Tiananmen Square, Beijing, Red Square,
Moscow and Plaza de la Revolucin, Havana)
tend to be huge and intimidating, apparently
expressing the power of the ruling regime
and the insignificance of individual citizens.

In summary, small urban public spaces have


huge social, political and economic value.The
extent to which any town contains suitably
convivial spaces is a reflection on how
civilized it is.

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Securing an
Exclusive or Inclusive
Urban Realm
A crucial influence on whether people will
use or avoid urban public spaces is the
degree to which they feel safe in them.The
actual risk of becoming a victim of crime is
usually less than the fear people feel, but it is
the latter that can lead to avoidance. Ironically
the people who are least at risk of street
crime (older people and women, for
example) tend to be the most fearful, while
young men, those most at risk, are less fearful
(or at least pretend to be!) (see Shaftoe
2004).The consequence of all this is that
certain public spaces become monoculturally
dominated Saturday nights in town centres,
or parts of parks for example which
undermines the intention for public spaces to
be democratic places for all. It can also lead
to a self-fulfilling prophecy as, in the absence
of the moderating presence of a broad mix
of citizens, certain places at certain times
become arenas for drunken confrontation
and intergroup conflict.
Currently there is a debate about whether
we should be providing exclusive or inclusive
built environments as a means of promoting
urban security. On one side are the designing
out crime proselytizers who seek closure
and limitation of use of spaces; on the other
side are the New Urbanists, Urban Villagers
and 24 Hour City people who want to
crowd out crime through mixed use and
maximizing activity in public areas.

This debate has become more salient since


the publication of a raft of governmentsponsored reports aimed at informing
practitioners about how to revitalize our
towns and cities.The reports emanating from
the Urban Task Force (1999) and the
government quango CABE Space (2005)
come down firmly in favour of inclusive urban
design as a means of achieving safer public
spaces, whereas the joint ODPM/Home
Office-sponsored publication Safer Places
(2004) is much more equivocal, trying (not
entirely successfully, some have argued) to
reconcile inclusive with exclusive approaches
to urban security.
Certain assumptions are made in this debate,
about the degree of influence different styles
of urban development can have on crime and
offending.This section will set the debate
within the broader context of the links
between urban design, human behaviour and
other social factors that may affect levels of
crime and feelings of security in the public
realm. Ultimately there are political choices to
be made about how we invest in development
and regeneration that will determine whether
we end up with a predominantly exclusive or
inclusive urban realm.

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Spot the difference


Both the photographs on this page are of
public squares in medium-sized provincial
cities. One is a safe place to be in; the other is
hostile and the scene of considerable crime
and incivilities.The differences between these
pictures offer a stark illustration of the links
between urban security, quality of life and the
built environment. A reading of these two
images could suggest that urban security is
about context (geographical), context (socioeconomic) and context (cultural).This is
because, although both squares are about the
same size, surrounded by shops and provided
with communal facilities, there are some
crucial differences that need contextual
explanation. Figure 12 is a peripheral housing
estate in Bristol while Figure 13 is of a square
in the heart of an ancient city (Dijon).The
Dijon square welcomes a mixed population
of shoppers, visitors and loafers, while the
Bristol square is only likely to be used by local
people living on one of the most
disadvantaged estates in the city. Attempts to
redesign the Bristol square (with new
shutters, shopfronts, CCTV for safety and a
public seating area) have simply not
succeeded in the face of overwhelming
deprivation in the surrounding area.

Figure 13 Place Franois Rude, Dijon

What can be deduced from these pictures


alone challenges the notion, proselytized by
the adherents of crime prevention
through environmental design (CPTED)
(see Saville 1996), that you can simply
design out crime either in a hard (physical
security) or soft (natural surveillance via
new urbanism) way. Once you have
looked at the wider geographical, social,
economic and demographic context of
any built location, you realize that there are
huge variations in motivations and likely
reasons to commit crime.

Figure 12 Knowle West, Bristol

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Design to keep out or bring in?


Given this problem of context, what design
and management policies should we be
adopting to make public spaces safer? Or is
design irrelevant? I dont think it is, but it is the
indirect results of design, such as desirability
and the types of usage it facilitates, that seem
to have as much effect as direct things like
target-hardening and surveillance. However,
this topic area has been both under-evaluated
and mired in political debate about what kind
of places we want.
Despite the governments promotion of
inclusive urban places, often through the
Commission for Architecture and the Built
Environment (CABE) (see for example
ODPM 2002, CABE 2004a), on the ground
the default drift seems to be towards
closure, fortification and exclusion.The
proliferation of gated spaces (see Atkinson
and Blandy 2006), CCTV and private security
are all evidence of this exclusive drift. It
should be noted too that shopping arcades
and malls are the gated communities of

commerce, with all the pluses and minuses


that this implies (see Gold and Revill 2000).
And the designing out crime brigade are on
the offensive (see for example Town and
OToole 2005).There has been some
research into the effectiveness of designing
out crime that claims positive outcomes (see
for example Armitage 2000) and obviously,
all other things being equal, secured by
design (SBD) developments will be less
victimized than non-SBD ones but, in the real
world of urban polarization, all other things
rarely are equal.
The alternative consists of the development
of permeable environments with mixed use
and plenty of public spaces, in a deliberate
attempt (using concepts such as the Urban
Village and place-making) to build social
capital and a sense of community (see Neal
2003).The trouble is that the security
benefits of such inclusive urban spaces have
been hardly researched at all. We are mostly
relying on gut feeling and faith.
Figure 14 Shopping mall, South Gloucestershire

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Inclusive public space


why bother?
Given the previous comments about the
obvious security improvements achieved
through fortification and enclosure, why
should we trouble ourselves with creating or
maintaining public spaces and permeable
neighbourhoods? Why not just seal
everything off and discourage people from
wandering around or hanging about in urban
areas? To some extent this is what is
happening in parts of the US and South
Africa, for example; and through the use of
dispersal orders and curfews in the UK, the
police now have powers to exclude young
people in particular from streets and public
spaces. However, there is a strong and wellestablished argument to the contrary that
the safest places are well-populated with
both users and casual passers-by who
provide more eyes on the street to
informally police public spaces (Jacobs 1961,
Gehl 2003). As Roger Evans recently stated
(2006) When a society stops policing itself, it
has failed. If everyone in a society cant enjoy

all the public spaces within a town then it


cant police itself. In order to achieve that, we
need a public realm which is inclusive
(p33).
The argument in favour of inclusive public
spaces goes considerably beyond a narrow
focus on security to include health, wellbeing
and even the very nature of civilization.
Richard Sennett (1986) has argued that
people grow only by the processes of
encountering the unknown (p295) and the
best places to encounter difference and the
unfamiliar are public spaces, where all
segments of society can cross paths, mingle
and be observed. Without this observation
and engagement with difference, Sennett
claims in his book The Uses of Disorder
(1973), we are in danger of becoming
increasingly prejudiced and narrow-minded,
as we only choose the company of likeminded individuals in our increasingly
cocooned daily routines.

Figure 15 Bristol

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In a similar vein Louis Mumford (1964)


asserted that the function of city public
spaces is to permit, indeed to encourage,
the greatest possible number of meetings,
encounters, challenges, between various
persons and groups, providing as it were a
stage upon which the drama of social life can
be enacted, with the actors taking their turn,
too, as spectators (p173). William Whyte
(1988) claims that the increases in private
travel and electronic communication, rather
than turning us in on ourselves, have actually
stimulated a greater need for face-to-face
contact. We are, after all, a social and sociable
species and we need affirmative interaction
with other humans for our health and
wellbeing.
Finally, there is an economic argument in
favour of reviving public space. More people
on the streets and in squares means more
footfalls past and into shops and cafes.
Because people attract people, cities with a
lively public realm are more likely to appeal
to tourists and other visitors.The
transformation of Melbournes public spaces
(see Gehl and Gemzoe 2001) is a case in
point.

Convivial spaces versus


hostile places
Jan Gehl (2003), an eloquent supporter of
urban public spaces, argues that the
disintegration of living public spaces and the
gradual transformation of the street areas
into an area that is of no real interest to
anyone is an important factor contributing to
vandalism and crime in the streets (p78).The
CABE Manifesto for Better Public Spaces
(2004a) claims that: Many parks and streets
are so derelict and run down that people
feel scared to use them. In contrast, places
that are well designed and cared for feel
safer and people tend to use them more. So
how do we stop the disintegration of public
spaces and design or grow new ones? More
fundamentally, can design (in the physical
layout sense) determine or influence the
degree to which a particular urban space is
inclusive or exclusive?
Much current policy and practice emanating
from the British Governments crime
reduction mandate seems to regard public
space as a mere arena where various control
measures are imposed.The outcome of this
is a series of exclusionary initiatives
encouraged by the Home Office (ranging
from legal controls, such as alcohol bans and
dispersal orders, to increased surveillance
through CCTV and police community
support officers) which sometimes seem to
be at odds with the more inclusive urban
renaissance policies espoused by the
Department for Communities and Local
Government (formerly the ODPM). It is

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intriguing (and perhaps significant) that this


dichotomy is a mirror of the conflicting
debate in academic and practitioner circles
about inclusion or exclusion in urban design
and security. It could be argued that this is a
realistic response, whereby control measures
using deployment of personnel, formal
surveillance and legal sanctions have to be
used to compensate for bad physical
infrastructures that would be too costly to
ameliorate. Such an argument has been used
in the past to legitimize intense housing
management of poorly designed high-rise
council estates (DoE 1993), but it is not
clear whether it is a justifiable argument for
more oppressive control of the public realm.

The extent to which we have gone down a


path of exclusion and formal control, as
opposed to designing in good behaviour, is
elaborated below.

Deployment of personnel
The traditional way of keeping undesirables
out of public space, whether these be
potential criminals, vagrants, people who are
different, or just other peoples children, is
to put someone in a uniform and send them
out on patrol.This was done even before the
police were formed and has seen a recent
revival with the increasing use of private
security firms, street wardens and police
Figure 16 Brent, North London:
Chalkhill Estate, now demolished

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community support officers. In some affluent


areas, standard police patrolling has been
augmented by private security personnel,
paid for by residents subscriptions and some
shopping malls pay a supplement to the local
police force to pay for extra patrolling.There
is now a better understanding, in some
quarters, that merely moving people on is
not really solving anything. Cities such as
Coventry and Sheffield have employed
uniformed ambassadors whose job is to
provide a welcome and reassurance to
visitors as much as it is to deter offending.

Uniformed patrolling is, at best, a reassurer


and a fear-reducer and may act as a
deterrent to the would-be offender,
assuming that the perceived surveillance is
comprehensive enough. At worst, uniformed
patrolling is a purely repressive measure
where anyone lingering in public space is
regarded as a suspicious person and
undesirables are hounded out of sight.

Electronic surveillance
Electronic security surveillance could be
termed armchair patrolling. Instead of having
distinctively clothed people walking around
an area, there are distinctively boxed
electronics surveying an area, while the
control person reclines in their televisual
eyrie.The users of public spaces are made
aware (through signs on poles and lampposts) that their every move is being
videotaped to be used as potential evidence
against them, so they (supposedly) refrain
from doing anything that could render them
liable to prosecution.
An approach to security based on electronic
surveillance attracts exactly the same caveats
as those mentioned above for uniformed
patrolling. Furthermore, because of its
technological intricacy, it is vulnerable to
breakdown, malfunction or malicious
damage. Overall CCTV schemes have
produced mixed results in terms of crime
reduction (Welsh and Farrington 2002,
Shaftoe 2002).

Figure 17 City-centre ambassadors, Sheffield

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At best CCTV can extend the reach of the


guardians of communal public spaces and
can offer a protective ring of security until a
problem can be sorted out by appropriate
personnel. At worst it can become an
intrusive, humiliating and repressive means
for controlling excluded populations. (See
Lyon 1993, Fyfe and Bannister 1998, Williams
et al 2000.)

Legal controls
For surveillance and security personnel to be
able to sweep offenders and undesirables off
the streets, they will need to call on legal
sanctions. At one end of the legal spectrum
there are police powers to stop and search
people suspected of behaving offensively,
move on loiterers, and arrest people for
causing an obstruction. At the other end
there are civil remedies (e.g. for noise
control), by-laws and licensing restrictions
which can be invoked by local authorities to
clean up the streets. Coventry was the site
of the first by-law banning the consumption
of alcohol in town-centre streets and public
spaces (Ramsay 1989, 1990) and since then
such street drinking bans have spread
exponentially, particularly in response to
moral panics about street beggars, loutish
behaviour and binge drinking. Such legal and
licensing measures do appear to have had an
effect in reducing crime and particularly
antisocial behaviour in town centres, but one
has to ask if the problem has not been
moved elsewhere, to sites such as parks just
outside the city centre, as appears to have
been the case with Coventry.

Another approach to stamping out


undesirable behaviour in public spaces was
to rigorously enforce the law right down to
the most minor infraction, in the belief that
intolerance of small delinquencies would
prevent the commission of bigger offences.
This zero tolerance approach gained huge
populist support for a short time in the late
1990s, but its effectiveness as a sustainable
approach to controlling antisocial behaviour
and nuisance in the streets was soon
challenged. For example, Morgan and
Newburn (1997) questioned the approach
on the grounds of practicality a lack of
police resources and competing demands to
tackle serious crime.The approach was also
challenged by Young (1998), who suggested a
number of other circumstances and factors
that might have influenced crime reductions.

Physical barriers
Along with surveillance and legal controls of
the types mentioned above, the main way of
controlling space in order to minimize the
opportunities for crime has been the
installation of actual barriers to separate
potential offenders from potential victims or
their property.The appropriate use of
security doors, locking systems, walls, fences,
grilles and shutters can all contribute to a
safer built environment (Crouch et al, 1999).
If you keep criminals away from their targets
(by deterrence or fortification), of course
you will reduce some types of crime
(notably burglary, vandalism and vehicle
crime), but at what expense to the liberty

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Convivial Urban Spaces

and freedom of movement of law-abiding


individuals? Do we want to scuttle from our
fortified domestic enclaves to intensively
patrolled shopping malls in our centrally
locked cars? (see Davis 1992, Ellin 1997).
Some people seem to prefer this exclusive
kind of security (particularly in North
America), but of course you need a certain
level of wealth to be able to enjoy it.

Management
Most of the measures described above have
attempted to deal with the problem of
crime and insecurity through a greater or
lesser degree of exclusion and repression. In
other words the potential offender has been
made unwelcome and the offence has been
made more difficult to commit. As already
indicated, the risk with these measures is that
the problem will move to a different place or
change to a different type of crime, as no
attempt has been made to deal with the
motivation to commit crime or to engage
with those likely to offend.
In reality, there are very few career criminals;
people who commit offences often do so
out of boredom, frustration, desperation or
as a by-product of a personal problem such
as addiction, psychopathology or
homelessness. For even the most hardened
recidivist, the criminal act is only a very
occasional part of their daily life. Many
offenders are bored young people who
would engage in more legitimate pursuits if
they were given the chance (Graham and
Smith 1994).

Instead of excluding undesirables and creating,


in the process, an environment that is
undesirable to everyone, there is a current
move towards making our streets and town
centres more attractive, in the hope that
crime and antisocial behaviour will be
crowded out by the range of legitimate
activities and the behavioural norms of the
majority of law-abiding citizens (Bianchini
1994). At the same time, it is important to
engage with the minority who are displaying
unwelcome or desperate behaviour they
may need help, diversion or intensive support.
Enlightened strategic management of town
centres and public spaces can make them
more attractive, livable and vital, at the same
time reducing the density (if not the actual
number of incidents) of crime and antisocial
behaviour. Programmes that only focus on
crime reduction may be too narrow most of
the time and there is the risk that they
impoverish the urban realm.This
revitalization of streets and public areas in
Britain is being spearheaded by Town Centre
Managers (see www.atcm.org). Although
their primary focus is to improve the
economic fortunes of town centres, these
managers are aware that crime and
insecurity are big disincentives to potential
users (KPMG/SNU 1990, Coventry Safer
Cities 1992).
It should be pointed out that management
strategies can also be devised to exclude
people, or certain categories of people, by
either discouragement or actual prohibition,
using by-laws or other social controls.

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Integration and absorption


The notion of inclusion and neutralization of
crime and insecurity described in the
management approach above can be taken
one step further. As intimated before,
criminals are usually people with needs or
difficulties who happen to be hanging around
in public spaces because they have nowhere
else in particular to go.Therefore it is quite
possible to engage with such people to help
them meet their underlying needs or resolve
their difficulties, thus diverting them from
crime and antisocial behaviour. In Britain this
approach has offered some promising
innovations, although they have generally
been piecemeal, relying on charitable initiative
and local goodwill. Often their primary aim is
humanitarian, but with crime prevention or
disorder reduction as an added bonus.
Examples include the alcohol-free bar run by
the Salvation Army in central Swindon, the
Centrepoint Shelter for homeless runaways
in Soho, London, and even the Big Issue
magazine sold by the homeless as an
alternative to begging. In some continental
European countries this integrative approach
to crime and disorder reduction holds
greater sway. For example, in Lille, France, a
group of delinquents who used the entrance
to a metro station as their operating base
were contacted by a team of detached youth
workers. As a result, they made a video about
youth problems in the city centre and most
of them were helped by social workers to
reintegrate into normal community life (King
1988). A project in Rotterdam, Holland,
recruited young people who were loitering
and intimidating shoppers in a central street

and offered them a meeting place, support


and activities in an adjacent building (Safe
Neighbourhoods Unit 1993). In the USA, the
Travelers and Immigrants Aid of Chicago
operated the Neon Street Clinic, where
homeless and runaway young people could
receive comprehensive advice and assistance
from a range of professionals, or just hang
out somewhere warm and dry until they
were ready to use the services available
(Dryfoos 1990).

Animation
By animation I mean anything that brings
public spaces to life in a positive way. Busking,
pavement cafes, street festivals and so on all
bring more people into the public arena with
the belief that they will be extra eyes on the
street to improve the feeling of safety and
security for other users. Another major
attempt at animating our public spaces is to
temporally extend their use round the clock
and for all sections of the urban community.
The 24 Hour City concept is a relatively new
approach to revitalizing streets and town
centres (Montgomery 1994, Comedia 1991,
Bianchini 1994). A review of British initiatives
(Stickland 1996) showed that improving
night-time safety was the principal reason for
introducing the 24 Hour City concept.
Increased safety is seen to derive from
improved natural surveillance provided by
increases in the numbers and range of people
using the streets, including older people who
are otherwise less in evidence after dark.The
24 Hour City initiatives adopted by local
authorities include licensing initiatives, such as

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Convivial Urban Spaces

staggering closing times to avoid


concentrations of people and increasing the
number of late-night licences; bridging the gap
between offices closing and the start of
entertainment activities through, for example,
shops closing later; the stimulation of cafe and
restaurant activity; the promotion of street
entertainment and festivals.

Mixed use
Ever since Jane Jacobs published her
landmark polemical essay in 1961, there has
been support for mixed occupancy and use
of urban areas, in contrast to a planning
orthodoxy in the post-war years that had
encouraged segregation and zoning. More
recently, problematic domination of certain
public spaces by monocultures (for example
young drinkers in town centres at night) has
highlighted the importance of achieving a
more balanced and varied use of public
space. Living over the shop has been an
increasingly favoured approach to get more
people back into British town centres; this
was pioneered in Norwich and is now
increasingly part of planning policy
throughout the country. City-centre residents
add extra informal surveillance to public
spaces and, as they have a vested interest in
the neighbourhood, are more likely to report
or act on problems.

Inclusive designs
Most of these interventions dont seem to
have much to do with design, but even
things like CCTV need good design (to allow

clear lines of sight), security personnel dont


want hidden corners and entrapment spots,
and managers and animators need physical
facilities and spaces in which to organize
services and activities. All this points to an
indirect role for good urban design. However,
some commentators suggest that the way
we design or redesign streets and public
spaces can directly contribute to their
sociable and law-abiding use by all citizens
(Billingham and Cole 2002, CABE 2004a and
b, Gehl 2003).

Accommodating deviance
and unpredictability
Efforts to sanitize and control every inch of
public space risk that we eliminate all the
shadowed (Wood 1981) or slack
(Worpole and Knox 2007) places that allow
for activities that the participants dont want
to be seen or heard by others. Clearly,
some of these deviant activities will be
illegal and intolerable, but as Denis Wood
persuasively argues, if we clear these
screened places, we also remove the
possibilities of deviant activities that are
harmless or positively valuable as
articulations of resistance to the status quo:
it would be a dead world indeed without
the shadowed spaces (Wood p95).
Worpole and Knox also argue that Slack
spaces are needed (or should be
acknowledged where they already exist)
where minor infringements of local by-laws,
such as skateboarding, den-building, informal
ball games, hanging out and drinking, are
regulated with a light touch (Worpole and

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

Figure 18 Fort Worth,Texas

Knox 2007 p14). Depending on ones


degree of tolerance one could also add to
this list (as does Denis Wood): nose-picking,
heavy petting, premarital or extramarital sex
and nude swimming. Worpole and Knox
point out that citizens are very good at selfregulation and that this is the best way to
handle such grey areas. It is also
important to remember that in a
democratic and civilized society,
homeless people, alcoholics, those
receiving care in the community
and tribes of young people are
citizens just like anyone else and

Figure 19 Bristol

therefore should be allowed to occupy


public space, so long as their presence is
not causing a real threat to the safety of
others. In fact, such marginalized groups are
usually very good at finding their own slack
or shadowed spaces where they can get on
with their own lives out the way of others.

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Figure 20
Torquay, Devon

Caroline Holland and her fellow researchers,


who studied social interactions in public
spaces in Aylesbury, England (2007),
concluded that: The vitality of the urban
scene requires some degree of human
unpredictability. Indeed it is often the offer of
chaos, chance or coincidence that makes
many want to celebrate the potential of
public space (Findings summary p4).

Examples of this might be children who play


with the flooring materials and puddles in
playgrounds (rather than the swings and
climbing frames); stunt bikers who make use
of walls and different levels in plazas; or
language exchange students who colonize a
particular city-centre space as a meeting
place.
Figure 21
Krakow, Poland

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Some lessons from two


case studies
Birmingham
The shopping mall built above Birminghams
main railway station is a curious hybrid of
public/private space. It is used as a pedestrian
route into and out of the subterranean
station platforms and, as with many such
central locations, was a warm and covered
gathering spot for people with nowhere else
to go (and not necessarily any money to
spend).The centre management responded
to this by removing the communal seating, so
that there is now no other reason to be
there other than to shop or purchase
refreshments in a cafe (Figure 22).
There is some limited communal seating in
the Convention Quarter, part of Birminghams
mixed use inner-city revitalization but, in an
even more draconian response than that at
the shopping mall above the station,

unauthorized users are completely excluded


from the residential areas by access-controlled
gates.The developers and property managers
would undoubtedly justify this extreme
version of exclusion by asserting that it was
the best way to attract higher-income
residents back into the inner city, but it does
mean that substantial tracts of open space in
central Birmingham are inaccessible to
ordinary citizens.

Figure 22 Seatless shopping mall, Birmingham


Figure 23 Birmingham Convention Quarter
residential area

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Toronto
As mentioned earlier, shopping malls have, in
some ways, become the new version of the
village pump, where citizens gather in all
weathers to use services but also to mingle
with others and possibly socialize.The
trouble is that, because malls are privately
owned, what the public is allowed to do or
not to do is at the whim and under the
control of the landlords. Unlike real public
spaces, the primary purpose of a shopping
mall is to generate profits for the businesses
that operate there.This does not inevitably
lead to the exclusion of non-consumption
activities, but usually they will have to be
justified in terms of business benefits.Two
very different approaches to this have been
taken in shopping malls in Toronto, as
described below.
An exclusionary approach to people
management was taken at the Eaton Centre,
the huge mall that dominates the centre of
Figure 24 Dufferin Mall food court,Toronto

Toronto.The Centre had a large team of


security guards who among other things
were tasked with enforcing the exclusion of
several thousand Toronto residents who
were deemed to be undesirable
(presumably the homeless, alcoholics, drug
addicts and problematic young people)
(Poole 1994). It may or may not have been a
coincidence that the malls owners filed for
bankruptcy in 1999 and were taken over by
the Sears group.
By way of complete contrast, only a few
miles to the west, the management of the
Dufferin Mall adopted a completely different
approach. Set in one of Torontos less
salubrious but most cosmopolitan
neighbourhoods, Dufferin Mall is the main
local retail centre and thus attracts a crosssection of the local population. In the early
1990s, the Mall was experiencing serious
crime problems, as a result of theft and
violent and threatening behaviour by gangs

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

of young people who were using the Mall,


and particularly the food court, as a place to
hang out. Many local people, particularly
women, were avoiding the Mall because they
regarded it as a dangerous place. Rather than
filtering out all those but serious shoppers,
the management of Dufferin Mall made a
conscious and successful effort to engage
socially as well as commercially with all its
users and the surrounding community.Their
philosophy, as explained by David Hall, the
manager at the time of these changes, is that
The better the quality of neighbourhood life,
the better the business environment a
reciprocal relationship placing an onus on
business to assume its full share of
responsibility for ameliorating social
problems business giving back to the
community that supports it. The practical
outcome of this commitment was a huge
range of integrative and involving activities
centred on the Mall, including a community
newspaper, youth work, play facilities, a
literacy programme, educational outreach
work with school truants and excludees and
drop-in centres in some shop units for
different advice and counselling services.The
Mall achieved significant reductions in crime
and disorder a 38 per cent drop in
reported crime over a five-year period
(Wekerle 1999), and is now hugely popular
with local people, showing the sound
commercial sense of such an inclusive
approach to the whole population.
For a more detailed account of the Dufferin Mall
social intervention programme go to:
www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ph-sp/phdd/implement/
dufferin-mall-story.html

Summary
As with so many areas of study that involve
real people in real environments, it is difficult
to untangle the various strands (covered
earlier) that might influence human
behaviour either for better or worse in
public spaces. Given the complexity and
adaptability of the human species it would
be far too simplistic to say that the way we
design the urban realm has a direct influence
on how everyone will behave in it, apart from
such things as impregnable physical barriers.
It seems more likely that design and physical
layout will have a softer type of influence
that will interact with other factors such as
location, management, animation and culture.
Layered on top of all this complex series of
interactions is the whole political frame of
social aspiration, i.e. what kind of society do
we want? To complicate matters still further,
we may say we want one thing (say an
urban renaissance) yet our desire for other
things (such as security and control) may
actually lead to practices that achieve the
latter and deny us the former.
There appear to be two issues that
transcend the designing out crime versus
designing in good behaviour debate. First,
there is the important business of
community control, which seems to be one
of the most important differentiators
between safe and unsafe neighbourhoods.
Generally one can say that the more
community control and social cohesion there
is in a neighbourhood, the safer that
neighbourhood is. See for example
Hirschfield and Bowers 1997, Sampson et al

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Figure 25 Backwell, Somerset

1997. Interestingly, both sides of the safer


environments debate claim that their
methods generate informal social control,
but through different means and on a
different scale. Supporters of gated
communities (see Figure 25) would argue
that such neighbourhoods encourage social
cohesion and on the other hand, many new
urbanist developments (particularly in the
US) have turned out to be quite exclusive
(for example Seaside and Celebration in
Florida).
Second, and most importantly, we need to
decide what quality of urban life we want. Do
we want a mostly privatized existence,
centred on our well-defended homes and

exclusive clubs, where we interact only with a


few like-minded friends and colleagues? In
which case we should go for defended space.
Or do we want a more open quality of life in
which we can wander where we please,
encounter lots of different people, but take a
few more risks in the process? In theory,new
urbanism delivers this more zestful way of life
but, as Town and OTooles article points out,
many new urbanism developments are
turning out to be monocultural and riddled
with regulations. So it may be that neither
defensible space nor new urbanism can
provide us with the kind of vibrant
neighbourhoods that could be stimulating to
live and work in. Maybe we should adopt
policies and practices in regeneration that
both adopt reasonable levels of security and
encourage designs that allow for interaction
and integration, as traditional small towns did
throughout history!
Ultimately, levels of crime and safety are
more likely to be determined by bigger
socio-economic, cultural, socialization and
geographical factors than they are by the
design of our urban spaces, which takes us
back to the original two images in this
chapter.
Finally, however, I wouldnt want to suggest
that the built environment is irrelevant as a
backdrop to human behaviour. I believe that
architects, planners and urban designers have
an important role to play in designing or
redesigning safe and secure neighbourhoods,
but their contribution is part of a much
bigger whole.

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Children and
Public Space
Outdoor space is hugely important for
childrens development (Moore 1986). It is
important for their health, both mental and
physical, and is potentially one of the most
exciting places for them to play. I say
potentially because we often provide them
with stultifying environments which offer
very little delight, adventure or scope for
them to exercise their imaginations (see
Figures 26 and 27).
Healthy outdoor play has been emasculated
in many areas by adult preoccupations with
health and safety, potential litigation, stranger
danger, poor maintenance, economies in
public services and even aesthetics. Despite
various media-fuelled panics, children are in
no more danger in public spaces than 30
years ago (see Goodchild and Owen 2007).
In fact, as some commentators have noted,
as mollycoddling parents keep their kids
indoors and local authorities remove any
trace of adventurous opportunities from the
public realm, children are more likely to die
of boredom than from any outdoor public
danger.
The general trend for outdoor play provision
in the UK for the last 50 years has been to
provide robust fixed equipment in fenced-off
designated areas (usually in a corner of a
recreation field).

Figure 26 Charente Maritime, France

Figure 27 Dornoch, Scotland

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Undoubtedly, some of these ghettos of


swings and springy chickens have been
reasonably successful, but even a cursory
observation of the multitude of these spaces
scattered around our towns and villages will
reveal underuse if not abandonment.
However, a different approach in parts of
continental Europe, now being gradually
incorporated in the UK (following the lead
of Stirling in Scotland), is resulting in more
vibrant play provision for children.Three
features of this different approach are
integration into the townscape, mixed use
and loose materials.
Figure 28 Backwell, Somerset
Figure 29 Paris

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Integration into the townscape


Children and their accompanying carers
prefer short journeys to play areas and
therefore it is likely that spaces will be better
used if they are part of the neighbourhood.
This can also create livelier places for all.
The example in Krakow (Figure 30) benefits
both parents and children, as well as creating
a lively scene for passers-by.
In the Amsterdam example (Figure 31), part
of the street has been reclaimed as a
dedicated play space, with only emergency
or special access being allowed for vehicles.

Mixed use
The Krakow example also highlights the
value of having facilities for adults as well
as children.This will usually consist of seating
with a cafe or picnic tables (Figures 32
and 33).

Figure 30 Krakow, Poland

Figure 31 Amsterdam

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Figure 32 Radstock, Somerset

Figure 33 Copenhagen

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Loose materials
When they have the choice, children are
more inclined to play with natural elements,
such as water, sand and wood.This seems to
allow them to be much more creative,
which, after all, should be a valuable outcome
of play.
In Germany (most notably in Freiburg and
Berlin) play-space providers have
wholeheartedly embraced this looser, more
naturalistic approach, with the resulting
playgrounds looking very different from the
shiny metal and rubber-matted surfaces that
characterize many British playgrounds.

Figure 34 Combe Dingle, Bristol


Figure 35 Gropiusstadt, Berlin

In Edinburgh, a new play area created in the


inner-city green space known as The
Meadows (Figure 36 overleaf) has combined
the more traditional fixed play attractions
with copious quantities of sand, wood bark
chippings and water channels.The play space
has proved to be hugely popular with
children, adolescents and their parents.

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this risk-averse culture has gone too far and


indeed both the British Health and Safety
Executive (HSE) and the Royal Society for
the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) have
issued guidance to play providers that a
reasonable amount of risk in play is perfectly
acceptable as long as the benefits outweigh
the risks.The main inhibitors to more
adventurous play for our children remain
parents, along with local authority lawyers
and insurance companies.

Unpredictable use
Figure 36 Play space,The Meadows, Edinburgh

Risk and adventure


As mentioned previously, many play and
recreation areas in the UK have become
increasingly sterile and useless as a result of
adult and statutory authorities fears about
safety.There is an increasing recognition that

It has been noted by some play experts that


children will often get the most out of play
facilities when they use what is there in ways
other than intended.This should be
encouraged, or at least be allowed for, as it
can lead to more creativity. An example
Figure 37 Central Bristol

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might be children playing with the sand or


loose bark that has been provided as a soft
surface material. Furthermore, children will
seize play opportunities even in
environments that are not explicitly
designated as play spaces.This may be one
way to partly get round the legal liability
dilemma that some local authorities fear
designate a public structure as art or a water
feature, rather than as a playful space.
This leads to a further point some of the
most exciting spaces for children and young
people to play in are shadowy or spare bits
of the urban fabric: patches of wasteland
where you can make dens, banks of streams
and rivers where you can get muddy. As we
gradually clean up and control every nook
and cranny of the urban realm, we are in
danger of losing such loose places.

Addressing the Use


of Public Space
by Young People
The segment of the population most likely to
be found in, and to benefit from, public space
is young people.Yet, for adults at least, the
presence of some young people, particularly
teenagers, in public spaces is seen as most
demanding and potentially problematic.
Young people and particularly adolescents
are at a very vulnerable and influential
developmental stage in their lives. What
happens to them during these transitional
years will influence their long-term physical
and mental health. Repressing their natural

Figure 38 Hanging out and skating, Barcelona

inclinations to get out of their homes and


learn to playfully socialize risks displacing
their energies into the very things that
concerned parents are trying to avoid drug
misuse, self-harm and delinquency. It is ironic
that parents who are trying to protect their
children by not allowing them to go out and
play or socialize on their own may in many
cases be doing more harm than good.They
may be able to temporarily repress their
offsprings inclination to engage in risky,
antisocial or illegal outdoor activity, but, in so
doing, they may turn them into unhealthy
bedroom recluses, cramping both their
physical and psychological development in
the process.
In the United Kingdom we mostly dislike
young people. We call them derogatory
names (e.g. yobbos, vandals, thugs, tearaways)

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Figure 39 Hanging out in York

that we wouldnt dare use for any other


segment of the population.They are often
seen as being guilty before proven innocent,
as in the case of threatening gangs of youths
gathering in public spaces.
The standard strategic response to groups of
young people in public or communal areas is
to try to force them out either by moving
them on (using police, security guards or
CCTV), threatening them with penalties (e.g.
fines for skateboarding), or removing the
opportunities for them to gather at all (e.g.
the removal of seating in public spaces
where young people have started to hang
out).
But the phenomenon of young people
socializing in groups away from immediate
adult supervision is an important

developmental stage moving from the


family nest to independent adulthood
(Waiton 2001). We should be enabling this
healthy socialization process by ensuring that
there are places and spaces where
youngsters can gather and hang out. And
young people dont want to be shunted
into the margins of neighbourhoods they
usually and rightly demand equal access to
the prime sites such as town centres, parks,
high streets and malls.
Young people gather in what are seen by
adults as inappropriate places because we do
not provide appropriate places. Where are
they meant to gather? Homes have got
smaller.Youth clubs have been cut back.
Members of the public call the police if
youths gather at bus shelters, in alleyways or
outside shops at night.

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Adults often worry that if teenagers are


allowed to gather with minimum supervision
and surveillance, they will engage in risky and
illegal activities.This is used as a justification
to move young people on, impose curfews
and ban them from specific locations using
sanctions such as dispersal orders. It is true
that they will sometimes make fools of
themselves, take a few risks, get too
boisterous and show off in front of their
peers. However, it is better to let them do
these things in designated spaces out of
harms way, than to try and repress such
activities altogether. At best this merely
moves the problem and it may well lead to
other more serious difficulties that could
cost dearly in the long term. We cant stop
kids indulging in sex, drugs and rocknroll;
indeed the more we try to ban these, the
more attractive they appear to rebellious
youth determined to kick against the traces
of adult censure. We therefore need to take
Figure 40 Youth shelter, Hayle Cornwall

harm reduction and risk management


approaches to such activities, to minimize
potential damage both to young people and
the adults affected by them.
Fortunately, not all our strategies for the use
of spaces by young people are aimed at
excluding them. Some imaginative solutions
to the need for young people to gather and
hang out include:
Youth shelters and sports systems.
These consist of good quality structures
where young people can gather without
supervision and without causing
annoyance to adult residents (see
Hampshire and Wilkinson 2002). Some
shelters have been designed and even
built by the target group of young people
themselves. If young people have been
involved in this or in other ways, they are
more likely to safeguard their investment.

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Figure 41 Ciaia Park,Wrexham

The location of such shelters is critical


not so close to homes that adults
become irritated, but not so isolated that
young people are vulnerable to
uncontrolled victimization. It is also
important that they are regularly
maintained, as if successful they are likely
to experience a lot of wear and tear.
Adventure playgrounds. Sadly, these
rough, tough and tumble locations have
mostly been emasculated by health and
safety worries, with the result that many
young people have fewer opportunities
to experiment and take risks under
benign adult supervision. Enterprising as

they are, some young people have


discovered that the entire urban realm is
a potential adventure playground and,
from its start in France, the parcours or
free-running movement has burgeoned
in many cities.This involves the use of
walls and other built features as daring
structures to jump over, between or from
a beautiful example of subverting the
original intentions of the built
environment to create a healthy (if
dangerous and potentially illegal) activity.
A few proper adventure playgrounds do
survive, including an inspiring one in the
middle of Ciaia Park, Wrexham the
largest housing estate in North Wales.

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

Skateboarding, stunt bike and


rollerblading spaces. Such spaces
work best when young people have been
involved in their design and location. An
inspiring example can be found in central
Brussels, where a site over the main
railway line that cuts through the centre
has been made into an urban space for
all, with a built-in skateboarding bowl,
designed according to the specification of
a group of local skaters.The space works
as an attraction for young and old alike.

Design and management


implications
We need to design in the facilities and
locations where children and young people
can meet, play and socialize in reasonable
safety, but without totally removing the
excitement and buzz that young people need.
On the other hand we must minimize the
danger and victimization that young people all
too often experience in
public spaces (Percy-Smith
and Matthews 2001).
Finding this balance
between adventure and
mollycoddling requires an
approach that includes
design, management and
social interventions.

Figure 42 Central Brussels,


Belgium

One of the most important strategies is to


include young people themselves in the
planning, design and management of public
spaces (White 1998). Grown-ups dont
necessarily know best and even if they think
they do, the process of involvement is as
important as the physical outcome. For
example, where young people have been
involved in the choice and construction of
youth shelters, there have been fewer
subsequent problems with their use and
maintenance (Hampshire and Wilkinson
2002).
We should remind ourselves that young
people are citizens just as much as adults
are; indeed they represent societys future. If
you ask young people, they will tell you what
they want and they will often be keen to get
involved in providing services and facilities. It
has been said that: Young people these days
theyll take anything, especially
responsibility.

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Young people are likely to want both


structured and unstructured facilities and
activities. Different groups and individuals will
want different things. One size does not fit all
(White 1998).You cannot just provide one
skateboard ramp and assume you have
fulfilled your obligations to youth.Young
people want to hang out with their own
particular clique or gang. Fourteen-year-olds
will not necessarily want to be in the same
places as 12-year-olds a couple of years
make a huge difference at that age. If you
just provide one facility without providing for
adaptable use or dedicated locations for
other groups, you may find that there is
conflict over space and the intended target
group is edged out.
Location and journey time to facilities for
young people are crucial factors. Generally
speaking, facilities for pre-teens need to be
very close to where they live and need to
be closely managed by adults or, in the case
of open play spaces, they need to be visible
from parents homes. Pocket parks in squares

or closes surrounded by housing are safer


and likely to be better used than play spaces
in the corner of more distant parks and
open spaces. By contrast, teenagers prefer
locations with lower supervision that are not
immediately overlooked by parents homes.
However they dont want to be completely
isolated from the general public.Teenagers
are concerned for their own safety and
rightly so they are at particularly high risk
of being victimized (National Centre for
Social Research 1998). However, despite the
prevailing moral panic about stranger
danger, it should be pointed out that
children and young people are much more
likely to be victims at the hands of their
peers and family than they are by adult
strangers. Concerned parents who wont let
their children go out on their own for fear
that they might be abducted by paedophiles
and psychopaths, while minimizing one
statistically low risk, increase the risk of
cramping the healthy and social development
of their offspring.
Figure 43 Harlem,
New York. Because
there is nowhere else
for them to meet, these
young men in Harlem
have colonized the area
that had been designed
for parents to sit in
while they kept an eye
on their children in the
adjacent playground.

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Public Spaces Why Have Them and Who Are They For?

Although dedicated locations sometimes


work, young people should be entitled to
equal rights of access to general public space.
As part of their development it is valuable
that they learn to interact with other citizens.
Adults can provide informal social control
and supervision and can call on specialist
agencies if problems arise.Young people
probably feel safer in areas that are also
accessible to adults, such as town squares,
public car parks, footpaths and parks.

Planners and urban designers may feel


deeply frustrated when the area they
designed as an outdoor seating area for
office workers becomes colonized by
skateboarders (Figure 44). But is this a
disaster, or should we regard public spaces as
dynamic, organic and adaptable, rather than
for a fixed single use? (Sennett 1973).

Figure 44 Central Cardiff

Conclusion
In the UK we mostly regard young people as
potential problems, preferably to be excluded
from public space.This repressive approach
damages young peoples potential for healthy,
prosocial development, and means that they
resort to more devious means to hang out,
or even more worryingly, become neurotic
bedroom recluses.

We need to respond positively, inclusively


and creatively to the needs of young
people to socialize in public spaces by
involving them in design and provision, and
ensuring that what is provided minimizes
harm and victimization risk, without
removing the frisson that young people
need and enjoy.

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CHAPTER THREE

What Makes a Space Convivial?


Principles and
Underpinnings
s a bridge between theory and practice,
there are various aspects of the design
and management of public spaces that affect
how successful or problematic they may be.
This section covers some of these principles
and underpinnings.

A number of people have attempted to


establish a set of principles to inform the
design and production of successful urban
spaces. Francis Tibbalds (1989 p467), for
example, suggested the following Ten
Commandments of urban design, most of
which are directly applicable to public spaces:
1
2

3
4
5
6

Thou shalt consider places before


buildings
Thou shalt have the humility to learn
from the past and respect the context of
buildings and sites
Thou shalt encourage the mixing of uses
in towns and cities
Thou shalt design on a human scale
Thou shalt encourage the freedom to
walk about
Thou shalt cater for all sections of the
community and consult with them

7
8
9
10

Thou shalt build legible environments


Thou shalt build to last and adapt
Thou shalt avoid change on too great a
scale at any one time
Thou shalt, with all the means available,
promote intricacy, joy and visual delight in
the built environment.

These principles are closely aligned to the


urban design values espoused by Jacobs and
Appleyard (1987) in their urban design
manifesto.This was a reaction to the
modernist and mechanistic approach that
had been promoted by the Congrs
International dArchitecture Moderne
(CIAM) in its famous Athens Charter of 1933,
published in heavily edited form by Le
Corbusier and colleagues in 1943.

Mixed use and new types


of urbanism
After the Second World War planning in
Europe and North America was heavily
influenced by the thinking of the CIAM and
favoured a zoning approach, where different
types of uses were allocated to different
areas of the city; so that all industry was in
one place, residential in another and leisure
facilities in yet another, and so on.This was
found, over time, to create a number of
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Convivial Urban Spaces

adverse side effects and, in relation to the


subject of this book, it often resulted in the
abandonment of central public areas for
significant times of day or days of the week,
as well as creating bland and indeterminate
open spaces around residential blocks. As a
reaction to this, there emerged the urban
villages movement in the UK (see Neal
2003) and new urbanism in the US (see
Duany and Plater-Zyberk 1991).The
fundamental idea underpinning this approach
is to mix uses together to create more
integrated neighbourhoods, which are more
sustainable and capable of building social
capital, as people are more likely to know
each other and interact. Public spaces are a
core part of this new urbanist or urban
village approach. By providing more eyes on
the street and community cohesion, these
new developments (or reworking of old
ones) are also supposed to be safer and
Figure 45 Poundbury, Dorset

more resistant to crime and antisocial


behaviour. However, they have come under
some criticism (see for example Town and
OToole 2005) and some of the brand new
flagship developments, such as Poundbury in
England and Seaside in Florida, US, have
turned out to be worryingly monocultural
with underused public space. Other more
low-key developments that are better
integrated into the surrounding urban fabric
(such as Bordesley urban village in
Birmingham) seem to work better.

Legibility
This is a term originally coined, for urban
design purposes, by Kevin Lynch (1960). He
defines it as the ease with which [the
cityscapes] parts can be recognised and can
be organised into a coherent pattern (p2).
So, in terms of public space, it means

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What Makes a Space Convivial?

knowing where you are, knowing how to get


to where you want to be and feeling that
the space has visual coherence.Yet, as a
result of accretions of street furniture and
signs, many of our public spaces are
incoherent and confusing.

Duplication of equipment

The problem of unacceptable stuff in the


public realm can be categorized under seven
headings:
1

Clutter general uncoordinated


street equipment, signs and furniture.

Figure 47 Castle Park, Bristol

6
7

Illegibility (literally) signs that you


cant read because they have not been
cleaned or maintained, or are obscured
by vegetation.
Interruptions and obstructions
such as having waste bins, lamp posts,
bike racks and so on. located in the
middle of footpaths.
Redundancy old equipment or
fittings that have not been removed.
Uncoordination different things
added by different departments or
agencies, with no overall consistency of
design or integration.

Figure 46 Clifton, Bristol

Confusion and contradiction


(including misdirection by signs that
have been knocked or turned in the
wrong direction).

Figure 48 Harbourside, Bristol

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The environmental psychologists Rachel and


Stephen Kaplan assert that the coherence
and legibility of the public realm is important,
as the struggle to pay attention in cluttered
and confusing environments turns out to be
central to what is experienced as mental
fatigue (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989 p182).

Firmness or looseness?
In the UK in particular, the whole system
from planning through to detailed design and
construction allows for very little flexibility
the very thing that the evolution of convivial
spaces requires.The result is that we too
often end up with rigid designs that cannot
easily be changed, once it is found they are
not well adjusted for optimum use. A looser
see what happens approach with money

Figure 49 Sergels Torg, Stockholm

held back for adjustments and modifications


is likely to deliver spaces much more attuned
to user needs (see Brand 1994). As
Andersson (2002) observes: the design
of a city must be regarded as an ongoing
process, one that people need time to
become acquainted with (p112). He goes on
to give the example of Sergels Torg, a plaza
in central Stockholm which was built with
stark modernist zeal in the early 1970s, but
soon declined into desolation and misuse.
Modest, incremental changes begun in 1998
(such as lighting, resurfacing and changed
circulation arrangements) have helped to
make it a more successful gathering place, as
originally intended, although its fundamental
design as a sunken, hard space surrounded
by traffic means that it will never be entirely
convivial.

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What Makes a Space Convivial?

Attempts to establish principles for what


makes a successful public space, will be
influenced by the values of the person
defining them and are thus normative (to
use the social science jargon). However,
there are some more objective
underpinnings that can inform good design
and management, based on the nature of
human behaviour and preference, many of
which have been clarified with the help of
environmental psychology.

The Psychology of
Public Space
Public spaces serve a number of practical
functions, being places for trading, meeting,
conversing, resting and so on.Yet there is an
additional dimension to public space it can
fulfil certain psychological needs as well as
purely physical ones. By psychology in this
context, I mean anything that affects our
behaviour or feelings.
There has been substantial interest and study
over the years into the relationship between
human behaviour and urban form (see for
example Canter 1974, 1977, Rapoport 1977,
1990, plus the journals Environment and
Behaviour and Journal of Environmental
Psychology). In some fields, most notably
urban security, this has had a substantial
influence on the design and management of
urban spaces. An extreme position in this
respect is the design determinist one, where
theoreticians such as Alice Coleman (1985)
blamed badly designed built environments
for causing the high levels of crime being

committed in them. At the other end of this


continuum of thinking about the degree to
which design of space can influence
behaviour are those who note the degree to
which people can adapt to their
surroundings and make the best of a bad
job. In truth it is likely that we both affect
and are affectd by space. In terms of
designing good public spaces, it helps to
understand how people are likely to respond
and relate to the space available and how
they make spaces work for them. Some of
this will relate to some basic human
behavioural characteristics such as
territoriality, interpersonal distance,
distribution and the need for different types
of observation and communication (Canter
1974). Other responses are to do with such
psychological effects as interpretation,
coherence, legibility, sense of safety, intrigue
and curiosity.

Territoriality
One of the most fundamental human traits
(presumably from our tribal hunter-gatherer
origins) is the need to mark and claim
territory.This is potentially problematic in
public open space, because in theory it
belongs to everyone and no one. In extreme
cases public spaces will be colonized by
certain groups, perhaps youth gangs or street
drinkers, but more often there is a kind of
accommodation between various groups and
interests, which at best makes for lively,
varied and intriguing occupation of space,
allowing people to observe diversity and
difference without having to get directly
involved in it.

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Figure 50 Padua

Interpersonal distance
Linked to the above points about
territoriality is the need to keep appropriate
distance or proximity according to
relationship. In the photo above, taken in
Padua, the couple intertwined in the
foreground contrast with the strangers from
another culture surrounding them, who are
trying to distance themselves in a tight
situation by turning away. If there is choice of
sitting and lingering places and some are
unoccupied, it is normal to sit on or occupy

a vacant space some distance away from the


others already there, rather than sitting right
next to a stranger. Indeed people who sit
right next to strangers, when there is
opportunity to do otherwise, are treated
with suspicion and discomfort by those
already occupying the space. As the space
becomes more congested, people have to
accommodate themselves gradually more
closely to each other, but always according to
some unwritten law about reasonable
distance.

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Distribution
However, it has been noted (see for
example Canter 1974, Whyte 1980) that
people do not distribute themselves evenly
across an entire public space.There are
certain preferred locations where people
tend to cluster and others that people try to
avoid. Generally, locations where one can
observe others without being exposed from
all sides oneself are preferred.This may
explain the enduring attraction of ledges
(where ones back is protected by the wall
behind) and the avoidance of backless
benches in the centre of public spaces
(unless there is no other choice).

The need for different types of


observation and communication
Interpersonal distance will be determined (if
there is any choice) by the activities people
are engaged in, in public space. People who

are only there to watch the world go by will


want to be further away from others than
those who are hoping to have some kind of
casual interaction, who in turn would be
further away than those who are interacting
with close friends. A good public space will
offer the chance for the whole range of
these activities to occur and this has
implications for the arrangement of places to
sit or linger. If the space consists of an area
of closely cut grass then this range is easily
accommodated (Figure 52), but if the area is
hard landscaped then careful consideration
will have to be given to the location of
benches, as well as informal seating and
leaning opportunities such as ledges, steps
and low walls.The ideal is movable seating
(see page 102), but this is not always
practicable.

Figure 51 Harbourside, Bristol

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Figure 52 College Green, Bristol

Interpretation, legibility
and coherence
Our minds are skilled at reading space i.e.
identifying where we are and the qualities it
appears to offer. Again, this is probably an
inheritance from our ancestors who had to
identify and memorize suitable hunting and
gathering grounds.This is mostly done
through visual interpretation of the cues a
space gives us, both in terms of its built form
and the kind of activities (or lack of activities)
going on there. A fair amount of research
has been done into how we extract
meaning from space (see for example
Canter 1977, Rapoport 1977, Madanipour
1996). For Kevin Lynch (1960) a good place

should be legible, by which he means the


ease with which its parts can be recognised
and can be organised into a coherent
pattern (p2). How this coherence is
achieved is the subject of some debate in
urban design circles. In theory a coherent
space should be all of a piece, yet many of
the spaces that people love contain variety
and diversity, both of built form and activity.

Sense of safety
One of the things that people are adept at
reading (if not always accurately so) is the
degree to which an unfamiliar place appears
to be safe or unsafe.This is a crucial factor
that will significantly determine whether or

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not they choose to linger in that space.They


will gauge how safe a place appears to be (in
terms of risk of personal victimization) by
studying the people occupying that space,
but also by looking at physical attributes
(such as the amount of light, potential hiding
places and entrapment spots).The
assessment of risk will depend on who you
are generally people will feel more at ease
when they see people similar to them
already occupying that space in a relaxed
way.This has particular implications for the
facilities and management of public space, as
there is a risk that certain demographic
groups (such as older people, women,
disabled people and those from ethnic
minorities) will feel nervous about using
certain public spaces, even if their risk of
victimization is quite low (see Shaftoe 2004).
The design of public spaces should also allow
for clear views and the possibility of easy
escape or refuge.

Intrigue and curiosity


People want coherence and a sense of safety
in public spaces, but they dont want
blandness (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989, Marsh
1990). One of the psychological attractions
of a good public space is the promise that it
will satisfy our innate curiosity. We like to be
intrigued by the possibility that there is more
to a space than initially meets the eye and
that if we move through it there may be
further intriguing discoveries.This underpins
the attraction of unfolding townscapes as
espoused by Cullen (1961), where a series
of linked but not immediately visible spaces
are designed to gradually reveal themselves
as you move through them.This is also an
important factor in good park design there
is nothing more boring than a park or green
space where you can immediately see
everything that is there.

Aesthetics

Figure 53 Bland green space, Dublin

Woven into all this psychology of space are


our aesthetic experiences, which are
discussed in the next section.

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Aesthetics
Sensing the Character
of an Area
Constricted, we understand and interpret the
city through the technical rather than the
sensory, yet it is the sensory from which we
build feeling and emotion and through which
our personal psychological landscapes are built.
These in turn determine how well or badly a
place works even economically, let alone
socially or culturally and how it feels to its
inhabitants and visitors. (Landry 2006 p40)
Sensuous requirements may coincide or conflict
with other demands but cannot be separated
from them in designing or judging, nor are they
impractical or merely decorative, or even
nobler than other concerns. Sensing is
indispensable to being alive. (Lynch 1971
p189)

As Westerners, we all spend most of our


time in the built environment. If we are not
in buildings, we are surrounded by them
when we go out. If we are not surrounded
by buildings in the countryside we are
still surrounded by people-made structures:
walls, roads, paths, terracing, ponds, sea
defences and so on. Nearly all these built
items have a function and can therefore be
regarded as existing for technical reasons
the house to keep us warm and dry, the
stone wall to protect the crops, the road to
get us from one place to another easily. It
can be argued that even structures that are
not obviously functional, such as monuments,
do actually serve a functional purpose, such
as marking a location or asserting power.
However, as the quotations opening this
section highlight, in addition to all this
technical function, places and spaces affect us
aesthetically they affect our minds and
senses.This is not just a trivial spin-off from
their true technical purpose, for by affecting
our minds and senses these spaces and
places can profoundly influence our health
and wellbeing, for better or worse. (See for
example Appleyard 1981, Halpern 1995,
Guite et al 2006.) As Thomsen (1998)
remarks, when talking about the ambiance of
cities: Architecture without sense appeal
makes people moody, grumpy, at first
emotionally unsatisfied and then physically ill
(p103).

Figure 54 Eastville Park, Bristol

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Kaplan and Kaplan point out in their book


The Experience of Nature (1989) that:
Aesthetic reactions reflect neither a casual
nor a trivial aspect of the human makeup.
Rather, they appear to constitute a guide to
human behaviour that is both ancient and
far-reaching. Underlying such reactions is an
assessment of the environment in terms of
its compatibility with human needs and
purposes.Thus aesthetic reaction is an
indication of an environment where effective
human functioning is likely to occur (p10).

Despite the latter point, the visual impression


of place is likely to be the most powerful
sensory experience for people with good
sight. Furthermore, as Landry (2006) reminds
us sights are better articulated, because in
general we have a rich vocabulary around
physical appearance (p50). Not only can we
describe visual qualities with words, but we
can augment them with maps, plans,
drawings and photographs. But as Rasmussen
(1959) notes: It is not enough to see
architecture; you must experience it (p33).

This section will analyse the visual and nonvisual aesthetic qualities of successful public
spaces in an attempt to arrive at some
broader aesthetic principles.There will be
some emphasis on the non-visual senses, as
urban design has, in the past, underplayed
these, preferring instead to concentrate
almost exclusively on the look of places.

Although it could be argued that the main


aesthetic experience of most public spaces is
a visual one, they affect the senses in other
ways, most noticeably aurally.The sounds
(mostly traffic) of the big city penetrate all
but the most secluded of urban spaces.
Where there are water features, lakes,
harbours or rivers, weirs and fountains
produce relatively high levels of white noise
in contrast to the silence of still water.

Figure 55 Zaragoza, Spain

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significant sensory factor. However, it could


also be the absence of smell that could
make somewhere an aesthetically pleasing
environment, as in cities we can be
overwhelmed by too much olfactory
stimulation.

Figure 56 Frome Valley, Bristol

The other sense that is noticeably affected,


even in urban spaces, is the feeling of
warmth or coolness caused by the
microclimate.Variations in shelter and shade
can affect wind chill and the degree to
which the warmth of the sun can penetrate.
In terms of smell, the usual urban pollutants
(such as exhaust fumes) are likely to be
noticeable and it may be that at certain
times of the year the smell of vegetation
(either flourishing or decaying) could be a

Finally, urban spaces can have some


noticeable textural qualities, both in terms
of the different types of surfacing underfoot
and the qualities of built features and foliage,
which, even if not actually touched, can be
experienced.
If our understanding is limited to a visual
understanding, we only concentrate on shapes.
If, however, we go beyond appearances, we
start a spatial understanding, a three
dimensional experience.We can enter this
space, rather than just see it.The same applies
to the design of spaces.We do not create
mere appearances but spaces that we can
use for different purposes. (Madanipour
1996 p99)
Figure 57 Parc Guell, Barcelona powerfully
textural

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Movement
As mentioned by Taylor (2008), movement
through space (along with time of day and
seasons) has to be factored into any
consideration of aesthetic principles, and this
applies just as much to non-visual as visual
aspects. Unless we are sitting, lingering or

loitering, we generally experience the


environment as we move between places. In
relation to non-visual aesthetic experience
this will include the feeling of surfaces
underfoot, the air or wind against our skin,
and the effort of passing through a space,
particularly if this entails climbing or
descending. All these factors should
therefore be considered as part of the urban
design of a space, and assuming we want
people to have positive aesthetic experiences
(Taylor 2008) we should optimize surface
treatments, microclimates and gradients to
provide the best sensory experiences.
The photograph of a stepped path leading
up to an urban park in Bristol (Figure 58)
encapsulates some of these points.The
paving is smooth but uneven, giving it a
tactile effect, even when wearing sturdy
shoes. As Lennard and Lennard (1995 p38)
point out:
This type of thoughtfully constructed floorscape
can also be a work of art that increases the
pedestrians enjoyment and awareness of the
experience of walking. Each step is special and
unique, and the effect, as in a Zen garden, is to
focus attention on the present moment, the
immediate sensory experience, the feel of the
paving underfoot, the changing materials.
This intensification of ones awareness of being
here, in a pleasing environment intensifies
ones sense of wellbeing.

Figure 58 Eastville Park, Bristol

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The relatively gentle slope of the stepped


path also demonstrates the importance of
handling gradients appropriately. Clearly the
topography of the site will be the
fundamental determinant of levels and
inclines, but it appears that, as long as the
changes are not too steep, people enjoy the
three-dimensionality created by slopes and
tiers (for example the popularity of the
sloping Piazza Del Campo in Siena and the
Spanish Steps in Rome). Changes in level will
inevitably be felt by the pedestrian (through
differential physical exertion), as well as seen.
However, it should also be noted that, in
dense urban spaces, people prefer to be at
street level rather than on raised decks or
sunken plazas (see the research of Whyte
1980 and Gehl 2003).
Finally, the microclimate, which affects our
feeling of warmth or coolness can be
considerately designed through the use of
enclosure versus exposure and planting.
Generally in Northern Europe we need to
protect people from the wind and cold and
maximize access to daylight, whereas in
other, hotter parts of the world, spaces
might be designed to encourage cooling
breezes to pass through and to provide
shade from the baking sun. As well as using
walls and buildings to create a protective
microclimate, shrubs and trees can be
invaluable. In terms of light and shade
deciduous trees have the huge advantage of
offering light penetration during the darkness
of winter and canopies of shade during the
intensity of summer.

Comfort and reassurance


The two concerns of providing comfort and
reassurance are founded in both physical and
psychological needs. It could be argued that
they are not primarily about aesthetic
experience, but (for example) the tactile
experience of a comfortable bench and the
feeling that one is in a safe environment
imply that there is a connection. Moreover
feelings of comfort and reassurance in a
place are so fundamental to its use (or
abandonment) that they must be considered
as a core principle of good urban design.
Reassurance, in an urban design context, is
mostly about ensuring that the layout of a
space minimizes opportunities for crime and
antisocial behaviour and maximizes the
chances that help will be forthcoming from
others in the case of victimization or an
accident. Fear is a related, but separate,
condition from actual risk and spaces need to
be designed with fear reduction in mind.This
can be achieved, for example, by minimizing
the number of potential entrapment spots
and designing routes so as to encourage
regular passers-by along footpaths (see
Shaftoe 1998 and Shaftoe and Read 2005).
Comfort is primarily achieved by providing
appropriate spots in which to linger, sit, eat,
drink and converse. According to analysts of
effective public space (see Whyte 1980, Gehl
2003) these comfort opportunities are
crucial to making a place work (see page
92). Most of these activities centre around
sitting spots, which may or may not be
formal benches.

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Figure 59 El Hospitalet neighbourhood, Barcelona

One of the non-visual aesthetic pleasures


that can be enjoyed outdoors is taste, not so
much of the landscape(!), but through eating
and drinking in public spaces. Al fresco food
and drink offers great sensory pleasure,
perhaps harking back to our heritage as
hunter-gatherers.This should be encouraged
in public spaces both by providing for
picnicking and liquid refreshment and
through the provision of foodstalls and cafes.
Another non-visual aesthetic pleasure that
can be provided for in a well-designed and
managed public space is the auditory one.
The delight of hearing the rustling of the
wind through trees and the sound of
birdsong is a welcome antidote to the urban
cacophony dominated by traffic noise.
However, there is also an active auditory
dimension that of conversation. Both
Whyte (1980) and Gehl (2003) point out
that opportunities for conversation need to

be appropriately designed. People need to be


able to speak and listen without voices
getting drowned out by other noises, but it
also should not be so quiet that other
people passing by or sitting close by can
overhear the conversation.

Figure 60 Kiosk cafe, Lisbon

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Natural elements
The feel of the warm breeze, or a sudden chill
draft, the sound of wind through the trees, or
gusts of blown autumn leaves waken the
passerby to the present moment.These intense
experiences of change or difference in nature
especially those that are particularly
enjoyable may provoke shared expressions of
delight and pleasure. (Lennard and Lennard
1995 p39)

Figure 61 Millennium Square, Bristol

We generally feel comforted by experiencing


natural elements in the landscape (Guite et
al 2006). Some of this is sensed visually, but
natural elements are also experienced
through hearing and touch.Trees rustle and
birds sing in the bushes, but perhaps the
most vivid and popular sensual experience
for humans is that of water (see Whyte
1980). Maybe this is to do with our
evolutionary heritage from water creatures,
perhaps it is the fact that our bodies consist
of over 80 per cent water, or perhaps it is
more symbolic. Water can offer a huge
soundscape, from drips to babbling brooks
to the roar of full-scale waterfalls.
Furthermore, water making contact with the
skin is one of the most fundamental sensory
pleasures, which presumably explains the
perennial popularity of splashing and
paddling.
The final set of principles could be
considered to be at the borderline between
aesthetics and environmental psychology.
These are to do with designing spaces and
places that create a sense of mystery,
intrigue, appropriate scale; and enclosures
that are neither claustrophobic nor
agoraphobic. Many of these factors interact
in a synergistic manner, so although the scale
and intrigue of a space may be experienced
primarily visually, it will be the sound and feel
of it that will reinforce that experience.
Enclosure may be observed but it will also
be felt through the microclimate it creates;
likewise a place may look mysterious, but the
sounds and smells may be subliminally
affecting our perception of it.

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Conclusion
Visual aesthetics dominate urban design
thinking and guidance, presumably because
(for those of us with good sight) what is
seen in the environment is often the
strongest sensual stimulation. But there is
also a tautological factor that limits our
incorporation of non-visual aspects the
term design comes from the same root as
the French word dessin, meaning drawing.
Urban designers skills are therefore much
more likely to be used within a visual
aesthetic where they can come up with
drawn solutions. We thus risk losing another
whole palette of aesthetic experiences in the
built environment those that enhance the
possibilities of delighting our senses of
hearing, touch and smell. A classic example of
this is the new centre promenade in Bristol,
where, for reasons presumably of visual
aesthetics, a faux cobbled surface has been
incorporated into the vehicular highway. As a
result traffic tyre noise is higher than usual, to
the detriment of those trying to have
conversations on the adjacent seating areas.
The fountains lining the centre of the
promenade, although visually intriguing, can
hardly be heard because of the traffic noise
and people are not encouraged to splash
about or paddle in them. By contrast the
central square of Rochefort in south-west
France is almost completely pedestrianized,
with consequent reduced traffic noise, and
the water features are designed to positively
encourage playful interaction.

Figure 62 Rochefort, France

Finally, it should be pointed out that our


experience of a place is usually based on a
combination of several senses. We may think,
as we wander through an ancient southern
European cityscape, that we are being
enthralled by what we see, but the warm
breeze against our skin and the smells of
marble and roasted coffee along with the
sound of conversations in exotic tongues are
also contributing to our sense of place.
Maybe, if we want urban designers to pay
more attention to non-visual aesthetics, we
should change the name of their discipline to
something that is less visually biased in its
terminology!

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Important Influences
on the Use of
Public Space
The rise and fall of the car
During the mid to late 20th century the
motor car became a dominant feature in
urban space.
Most North American cities and British cities
such as Birmingham gave vehicles priority
over pedestrians and most public spaces
became polluted through-routes or parking
areas. Starting in Copenhagen in 1962
(where the first conversion of a vehicular
route into a pedestrian street occurred),
Figure 63 Chicago

there has been a rolling backlash against the


dominance of the motor vehicle in our
towns and cities. Even Birmingham, previously
one of the most car-friendly cities in Europe,
is gradually reclaiming urban space for
pedestrians, now that it is generally
understood that the presence of internal
combustion engines is not conducive to
conviviality.This is nicely illustrated when
streets are briefly reclaimed for other uses,
as may be the case for a festival, celebration
or demonstration.
Once a street has been permanently
reclaimed from vehicular traffic, cafes and
stalls can spill out on to it and new surface
treatments can be installed.

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Figure 64 Streets Alive Festival, Bristol

Figure 65 Street Party, Bristol

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People attracting people


As a species we are sociable animals who
like to gather in groups or packs.Thus, when
we see people like us lingering in a space, we
are attracted to it, over and above any
physical or environmental attractions that the
place may have. An example of this is shown
in Figure 66. Bereft of people sitting on the
grass this site would look dreary and
unappealing, but as people are already there
(taking advantage of one of the few areas of
grass in a city centre), we are attracted to it,
in a self-reinforcing cycle. Significantly, the
space is large enough to allow a variety of
users to share it comfortably (young people
in the back ground and older people from
an ethnic minority in the foreground).

Figure 66 College Green, Bristol

Thus it becomes tautological that convivial


spaces tend to be full of people looking at
ease. It should therefore not be surprising
that nearly all the convivial spaces portrayed
in this book are well populated.
Wanting to be in the presence of other
people appears to be based on several
psychological needs. As mentioned earlier, we
are a sociable species (on the whole!) and
therefore feel at home with other people
around (Whyte 1988). As Lennard and
Lennard (1995) observe: Human beings
require and depend on contact with other
human beings. It is self-evident that to be in
the presence of other human beings is
reassuring! Perceiving their presence

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Figure 67 La Rambla: one of the great places for experiencing the theatre of public life (including street
entertainment and real-life crime!)

through looking, hearing and touching


enables all to experience themselves as less
alone (p84). If we do need to escape the
crowds, we can do this in our private
dwellings or by going to the countryside.
Some people, most notably extreme
introverts and agoraphobics, feel
uncomfortable in crowds, but this is a
minority in any population. And indeed
introverts generally enjoy observing others,
even if they feel awkward being too visible
themselves, which brings us on to the next
psychological need people-watching. For
various reasons, including social learning,
mate-seeking and simple voyeurism (in the
positive sense), we enjoy observing other
people going about their business and

leisure.This is exemplified by the popularity


of reality television shows, but the best
reality show is that found in well-used public
spaces with provision for endlessly watching
the world go by at no cost.This peoplewatching phenomenon is formalized in
southern Europe in the slow mass
promenading along certain city streets and
squares in the evening (known in Italian as la
passeggiata and in Spanish as el paseo) or
even in the daytime, as down La Rambla in
Barcelona.
Another example of this people-watching
enthusiasm is the popularity of pavement
cafes (see Figure 68).

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Figure 68 Amsterdam

Another reason why people attract people is


the need to herd together for safety.There is
little more scary than a deserted city centre
at night; people tend to congregate in spaces
or use streets that already have other people
in them as an assurance that there are
capable guardians (Felson and Clarke 1998).
The exception would be when the city
streets are dominated by groups of people
behaving aggressively or threateningly, which
is partly why there is such a strong argument
for encouraging mixed (both
demographically and activity-wise) use of
public spaces (Worpole and Greenhalgh
1996).This need to feel safe in public spaces
is particularly salient for young people, who
are demographically most at risk of
becoming victims of street crime (Shaftoe
2004).

Climate
When the enlightened planners of
Copenhagen started closing off trafficclogged streets and encouraged bars and
cafes to put tables and chairs out on the
streets, cynics told them that we are Danes,
not Italians. However, as more and more
streets and squares were returned to
pedestrian-only use, outdoor cafe seating and
occupancy increased proportionately (see
Gehl and Gemzoe 1996). It is easy to linger
outside in southern Europe and the tropics
(Figure 69) although it can sometimes get
too hot (Figure 70)!
Despite the less favourable weather
conditions, alfresco sitting has become more
and more popular in northern Europe. And

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Figure 69 Alfama, Lisbon

Figure 70 Havana, Cuba

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Figure 71 Torquay, Devon

it is telling that when southern European


language students come to the UK they still
happily gather outdoors (Figure 71).
Figure 72 Souk, Marrakech, Morocco

Many convivial spaces have good


microclimates engendered by the enclosure
effect of low-rise buildings and even when
the temperature drops, people can keep
warm in suitable clothing and with the
support of outdoor heaters. If the worst
comes to the worst, convivial spaces can be
totally or partially roofed.
Cities closer to the equator also need
protection from the harshness of the
climate, from the searing heat rather than
the bitter cold. Shade and ventilation can
achieve a cooling effect, removing the need
to resort to air-conditioning.

Source: Kathryn Smith

What attracts us
Significantly, nearly all our initial cues about
whether we find a place convivial will be
based on visual perception (although smell
and noise could be lesser factors).
However, these initial visual cues (resulting
from the design, management and usage of
the space in question) trigger various
psychological reactions ranging along a
continuum from fear and unease (leading to
a desire to escape from the space) to delight
and comfort (leading to a desire to linger
and enjoy the space).

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Figure 73 Amsterdam

Most literature and guidance about good


public spaces comes from a design
perspective, although the authors of such
publications usually accept that good design
of the urban fabric is not an end in itself, but
a means to engendering feelings of wellbeing
and delight in the citizens who use squares
and piazzas. Francis Tibbalds, in his seminal
work Making People-friendly Towns, suggests
that such places should consist of a rich,
vibrant, mixed-use environment, that does
not die at night or at weekends and is
visually stimulating and attractive to residents
and visitors alike. John Billingham and
Richard Cole, in their Good Place Guide,
chose case studies that answered
affirmatively to the following questions; is the

place enjoyable is it safe, human in scale,


with a variety of uses?; is it environmentally
friendly sunlit, wind- and pollution-free?;
is it memorable and identifiable distinctive?;
is it appropriate does it relate to its
context?; is access freely available? (p0.11).

Location
The other key factor that determines
whether people are drawn to use certain
public spaces is their location. Geographical
factors can often override design and other
considerations, as is the case with College
Green in Bristol (see Bristol case study).This
triangular public space, wedged between the
cathedral, the town hall and an arterial road

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could not be regarded as a particularly


attractive place from a design point of view
and the management positively discourages
certain uses, most notably skateboarding.Yet
the green is hugely popular with a primarily,
but not exclusively, young population, by
virtue, I believe, of its location close to the
centre of the city where most public
transport converges.

If a public space is in an isolated,


underpopulated or difficult-to-access
location, however well-designed and
managed it may be, it will not thrive. As
William Whyte (1988) points out, The real
estate people are right about location,
location, location. For a space to function
truly well it must be central to the
constituency it is to serve and if not in
physical distance, in visual accessibility
(p128).
Ken Worpole (in Gallacher 2005) suggests
that public spaces work best in urban areas
that have mixed use. It is much more difficult
to create convivial spaces in primarily
residential areas, as was found in the Five
Spaces for Glasgow project (described in
Gallacher 2005).The exception might be a
pocket park, combined with an imaginative
play space.

Figure 74 College Green, Bristol

Figure 75 Earswick,York new covered water


trough as a rather pointless public space feature

Attempts to create public spaces in new


low-density suburbs may look good on
master plans but may well become
meaningless and underused in reality.

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What Makes a Space Convivial?

Size, Shapes and Types


of Public Space
Does size matter?
In terms of overall surface area, there do
seem to be some key dimensions that make
a public space feel convivial. If the space is
very large (such as the Plaza de la
Revolucin in Havana, Red Square in
Moscow or even Trafalgar Square in
London), the place may inspire awe, but it
will not feel cosy. Most big squares, such as

Figure 76 St Christophers Place, off Oxford Street, London

these, were built by rulers as political


statements of their power and influence,
rather than being intended as friendly places
for people to meet in. Such places do have
their useful functions as places of mass
assembly and demonstration. On the other
hand, if a space is too small, it can feel
claustrophobic and not have enough surface
area to allow for convivial activities and
encounters. In my view, the most convivial
spaces in Central London, for example, are
relatively small, but do breathe out through
their surrounding linking spaces.

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Several writers on urban design have


suggested optimum dimensions (Lynch 1971,
Alexander 1977, Gehl 2003). Kevin Lynch
suggests between 12 and 24m along each
side as the ideal size for a small space, going
up to about 100m for large squares; Jan Gehl
suggests a similar maximum and points out
that the maximum distance for being able to
distinguish facial expressions is about 25m.
Christopher Alexander suggests that a small
public square should never be more than
22m across. Steve Abley (Abley and Hill
2004) notes that the maximum distance for
seeing any human movement is 135m:
Medieval squares had average dimensions of
57 x 140 metres which indicates that we
previously designed public spaces based on
social distances but have lost these design
skills over time (p9.5).

Shape
People seem to like a bit of intrigue in their
surroundings repetition and bland facades
Figure 77 Madrid: corner leading out of Plaza Mayor

do not stimulate the eye (Cooper Marcus


and Francis 1998).Yet we also seek
coherence and sense, beautifully expressed
in a slogan seen in the window of a shop
extolling the virtues of their custom-made
fitted kitchens: harmony without symmetry.
Rob Krier in his book Urban Space (1979)
spends a considerable amount of time
detailing many options and variations in the
shape of public space. By studying numerous
existing public spaces, he attempts to
categorize the various types of shape that
have come into existence.
Although many public spaces in British towns
are called squares they very rarely are, often
as an incremental result of their medieval
origins. Even fine symmetrical squares in
Continental Europe (such as Place des
Vosges in Paris and Plaza Mayor in Madrid)
often feel less sterile as a result of tree
planting and intriguing links to the
surrounding neighbourhood.

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Curves and bends in public spaces offer


intrigue and the prospect of something
interesting round the corner.This was the
basis for Gordon Cullens (1961) thinking
about successful townscapes that revealed
themselves sequentially rather than being all
there at once. And as Hundertwasser (see
Kliczkowski 2003), the delightfully eccentric
remodeller of some of Viennas dour
buildings, claimed, straight lines are utterly
alien to human beings, to life and the whole
of creation. Christopher Alexander (2004a),
in his work on morphogenesis, also notes
that natural forms are hardly ever
rectangular, let alone square. It must also be
of significance that many of the most popular
pieces of architecture (such as Gaudis in
Barcelona, the Sydney Opera House, the
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the
Gherkin in London) are curvaceous.

Types of public space


A broad definition of public space would
cover anywhere that is universally accessible
to citizens and could therefore include
everything from national parks to town hall
foyers. Mean and Tims (2005) take a radical
approach to identifying public space and
include such things as car-boot sales and arts
centres under this banner. However, as
mentioned earlier, this book focuses on the
middle range of urban spaces that are used
as general gathering and breathing places.
Although there is some overlap, in the
following paragraphs I identify the types of
space that can perform these functions in a
convivial way.

Figure 78 Smaller square leading off the main


market square, Krakow, Poland

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Open squares
These are the classical places where people
have gathered throughout history and they
still epitomize most peoples stereotype of
public space. Even within this typology, there
is a huge range of sizes, shapes and functions
(see Krier 1979).

Enclosed and/or covered spaces


Primarily for reasons of the vagaries of the
climate, some successful public spaces are
partially or totally covered. Some of these
are truly public (as with the Winter Gardens

in Sheffield); others have another primary


function often as a transport interchange
or marketplace, but are still accessible to and
usable by any members of the public.The
huge covered foyer area of Madrids
revamped Atocha Station is a fine example
of this.

Rather more contentious are the huge


private public spaces that have burgeoned in
many North American and European cities
over the last few decades. Although these
malls have some characteristics of urban
public space, they are usually privately owned

Figure 79 Plaa Reial, Barcelona a classic open square, but with arcading for shade and protection

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Figure 80 Atocha Station concourse, Madrid


Figure 81 Privately owned space:The Bullring,
Birmingham

and are primarily targeted for use by


consumers.The owners dont want people
to just hang around there they want them
to spend money and everything is designed
explicitly or subtly to facilitate this.They are
therefore much more controlled than a true
public space, with restrictions on activities
that are not purely consumptive busking
and demonstrating, for example.They are
also likely to be heavily monitored by day
and sealed off at night.They offer then a kind
of sanitized version of public space, without
any of the rough edges or unpredictability
that make true public space so vital and
democratic.

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Pocket parks and green spaces

Boulevards and linear parks

Quite apart from the aesthetic and amenity


aspect of small areas of soft landscaping in
towns, greenery helps to cut down noise
and pollution and also has benefits for health
and wellbeing (Kellert and Wilson 1993,
Guite et al 2006).The classic urban green
space in the UK is the Georgian communal
or public garden, surrounded by terraced
houses (see Figure 82). Such spaces need a
higher level of maintenance than hard
landscaped areas but can prove to be very
popular oases in densely built-up areas,
particularly those with a high concentration
of apartments.

Public space may run parallel to traffic


arteries or be a pedestrian route in its own
right (see Jacobs 1993).The important
factors are that it should give priority to
pedestrian use and lingering and that there
should be sufficient softening and separation
from vehicular movement (usually by
providing broad footpaths set back from the
road with trees and other forms of
landscaping). Sometimes these are built into
the townscape, as with the Parisian
boulevards; at others they are reclaimed
from former uses, such as the green ring
round the centre of Krakow which is the

Figure 82 Victoria Square, Clifton, Bristol

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What Makes a Space Convivial?

route of the former city walls. Many


maritime and riverine cities have created or
reinstated waterfront promenades.
Waterford in Ireland, Bideford in Devon (see
CABE Space 2007) and the South Bank of
the Thames in London are all examples of
the rediscovery of the delights of lingering by
the waterside.
One of the most inspiring and successful
examples of a reclaimed linear park is the
Promenade Plante in Paris, which runs
along the route of an abandoned urban
railway line, some of it a viaduct with new
shops and workshops underneath.

Figure 83 Waterford, Ireland: reclaimed public space


by the river, but rather isolated by the adjacent busy
traffic artery

Figure 84 Promenade Plante, Paris

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Figure 85 Mono, Northern Portugal

Reclaimed streets

Linked spaces

As the motor vehicle is gradually being


pushed back from the centre of cities, streets
can once more become fully public spaces
where people feel comfortable to linger, eat
and drink, rather than scuttle along, diving
into the occasional shop or cafe. Denmark
was the trailblazer in this (see Gehl and
Gemzoe 1996), closely followed by the
French and then the rest of Europe. Now
even the remotest European towns have
their traffic-free streets reclaimed for the
pedestrian.

Some of the most enjoyable public spaces


are those that consist of a series of squares
connected by short pedestrian routes, so
that one can wander through a series of
unfurling tableaux. Sarlat Le Canda in
southern France, Algajola in Corsica, Padua in
northern Italy and York (the last two are
featured as case studies in this book) contain
fine examples of such linked urban spaces.

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CHAPTER FOUR

How Can One Create


and Sustain Successful
Public Spaces?
Designed or Evolved?
iven that many convivial spaces seem to
have grown organically through an
accumulation of adaptations and additions,
can we design such places at the drawing
board? Critics of formal architecture and
planning such as Bernard Rudofsky
(Architecture without Architects) and
Christopher Alexander (The Timeless Way of
Building, A Pattern Language) suggest that we
are better off growing good places and
spaces, rather than trying to build them from
a blueprint. I think we have a lot to learn
about how plants and natural environments
grow, evolve and adapt to local
circumstances and then to mirror this in the
development of the built environment.
Christopher Alexander has done some
fascinating research in this direction
(described in The Nature of Order) and uses
the term morphogenesis to describe this
more natural approach to building and
development.There are some ancient and
modern examples to suggest that it is
possible to design convivial places as a

whole, but they tend to be relatively small in


scale (see for example the Barcelona case
study on page 81).The post-1947 culture of
master-planning whole urban areas is less
likely to accommodate the fine grain, local
nuance and adaptability which seem to be at
the root of convivial places.
Gradual organic growth of townscapes is often
best. Some architects and planners like a blank
slate.They usually do their best work, however,
when they dont have one. (Abley and Hill
2006 p8.7)
The city is discussed in barren eviscerated
terms and in technical jargon by urban
professionals as if it were a lifeless, detached
being. In fact it is a sensory, emotional, lived
experience. (Landry 2006 p2)
Many of the theories and principles of
urban design assume that it is a mechanistic,
fixed discipline that can lead to a definitive
master plan, arrived at through a
systematic series of assessments based on
land use, circulation, topography and so on.

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As a result, a rigid design is produced that is


implemented and then left, as the planners
and designers move on to their next
project. However, as the quotes above
indicate, there is an alternative approach
that is much more messy and incremental
and thus not to the taste of the urbanist
professionals who generally seem to prefer
purity and finality. Sennett (1973)
highlighted this unhelpful professional
obsession with order when he described
master plans as an attempt to produce
perfect machines which would (inevitably)
break down because they were so rigid and
could not accommodate the evolving
history of human and social development:
they have failed, not for lack of technical
expertise, but because they have not had
the power to be adaptive over the course
of time (p100). In the shaping of cities, the
technological metaphor is not practical; it
simply doesnt work (p101).
In their abstruse treatise on space syntax
(mapping how urban spaces are used by
people) Hillier and Hanson (1984 p140) do
make the clear assertion that:
. . . it is extraordinary that unplanned growth
should produce a better global order than
planned redevelopment, but it seems
undeniable.The inference seems unavoidable
that traditional systems work because they
produce a global order that responds to the
requirements of a dual (inhabitants and
strangers) interface, while modern systems do
not work because they fail to produce it.

Rudofsky (1964) was one of the first


theorists to challenge the view that a good
built environment required specialists to
design it in a complete way. He referred to
the exasperatingly complicated organism
that is a town, suggesting, mostly by
illustrative material, that good architecture is
not necessarily produced by design
specialists but by the spontaneous and
continuous activity of a whole people.This
concept of urban design as a continuous and
adaptive process, rather than a fixed science,
was developed by Brand (1994) in his
account of How Buildings Learn. In this book
he is particularly critical of design as a rigid
production of buildings and fixed spaces and
gives, as an alternative approach, examples of
what he terms low road environments
which are much more amenable to
adaptation to the messiness of life and
inevitable social evolution.
Lennard and Lennard (1995) liken a welldesigned city to a healthy organism where
individual cells modify and adapt themselves
in response to continuous feedback loops
with other parts of the organism: a
healthy city is one in which finely tuned
mechanisms exist for recognising the needs
of every individual, and group, and for
responding appropriately to those needs
(p22). Clearly, if you believe this, a rigid
master-planning approach to urban design is
not going cope with the need for constant
adaptation and adjustment, with the result
that the built environment will rapidly
become unhealthy for most of its inhabitants.

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The principal proselytizer of good urban


design as an organic growth process is
Christopher Alexander, commencing with his
book New Theory of Urban Design (1987)
and subsequently developed in his series The
Nature of Order (2004a). Alexander asks why
our modern cities so often lack a sense of
natural growth, and goes on to suggest a set
of rules and guidelines by which we can
inject that organic character back into our
high streets, buildings and squares.

Figure 86 Copenhagen city centre

In the light of this discussion, it is telling that


one of the most successful urban design
initiatives in Europe the reclaiming of the
historic heart of Copenhagen through
pedestrianization of streets and the creation
of a series of linked squares, was achieved
incrementally, with no overall master plan
(Gehl and Gemzoe 1996).

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The contrast between a master-planned,


fixed urban design approach and a more
incremental organic one is not just a
question of two different styles of treatment;
it is more fundamental than that. It is the
difference between a top-down, controlling
system of dealing with the built environment
and a bottom-up, democratic one.
Furthermore it will affect whether people
have to adapt to a predetermined
environment or whether the environment
can be adapted to best meet peoples needs.
Sennett (1973) points out that the origins of
master-planning can be traced back to
Hausmanns redesign of Paris, which was
explicitly aimed at giving the ruling class a
better means of controlling the seething
masses, by creating broad and straight routes
that would facilitate the speedy deployment
of armed forces. As Sennett also relates in
Flesh and Stone (1994), Nashs designs for
Regent Street and Regents Park were also
intended to allow the upper classes to
speedily pass by the lower orders hanging
around on street corners. One of Sennetts
theses is that this separation and control of
other populations is actually dangerous in
the longer term as it generates prejudice and
can lead to big violence (such as revolutions
and riots) rather than the small everyday
conflicts that are actually a healthy way of
people getting to know, understand and
accommodate each other. He therefore
argues that a certain amount of disorder is
actually a good thing and that the planners
desire to order and predestine human
function is doomed to failure or worse
violence.

The very term master-planning is telling in


itself, implying as it does a masculine,
dominating system, where an elite who have
allegedly mastered the science of creating an
effective built environment impose their
worldview on the ordinary citizenry. Landry
(2006) asserts that city-making is not a
science, it is an art, preferably created by
the people who populate the city.They
mould the physical into shape and frame its
use and how it feels (p5).
It is no coincidence that much of the
literature on this alternative approach to
urban design regards a good built
environment as an organism rather than a
machine. Historically, with the exception of a
few planned defensive or military
settlements (such as Richelieus in France),
most towns and cities just grew organically.
Undoubtedly this led to problems such as
congestion and strained infrastructure, but
the reaction in the 19th and 20th centuries
was arguably too extreme.
On the one hand was the planned city
movement led by visionaries such as
Ebenezer Howard, complemented later by
the modernist urbanist movement
spearheaded by Le Corbusier.These people
had the best intentions to provide people
with hygienic, purified environments for
work, rest and play but in their more
extreme forms their plans led to sterile,
alienating, mechanistic environments from
which we still reap negative social
consequences (see for example Hartcliffe in
Bristol or Bijlmermeer in Amsterdam).

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Even when these environments have not


become places of misery and last resort,
they are still soulless locations with very little
human stimulation (consider the Coventry
City Centre Precinct before its recent costly
redevelopment, Les Halles and La Dfense in
Paris or central Milton Keynes).These
examples were master-planned to within an
inch of their life; allowing for very little easy
adjustment once their dysfunctions became
apparent.

There are a few examples of new masterplanned urban spaces that do seem to work
as vibrant locations to hang out in (see for
example the new Potsdamer Platz described
in the Berlin case study). One American
design practice, the Jerde Partnership
International, has made its reputation by
creating places to be.Tellingly John Jerde
asserts that what we seek to create are
inviting, evocative places where people feel
safe, comfortable and happy; unique places

Figure 87 Horton Plaza, San Diego, designed by Jerde Partnership International

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that speak to a sites climate, context and


culture; genial places where variegated
populations gather to have a fantastic time
(Jerde 1998 p69). It is not casually that he
uses the adjective fantastic, as the defining
feature of Jerdes urban spaces is a high level
of fantasy; in fact critics of his approach
describe his work as Disney-like and one of
his most famous places is CityWalk at the
Universal Studios in Los Angeles a kind of
recreated urban street encrusted with colour
and variety. It is this use of colour and an
almost overwhelming variety of styles and
spatial treatments that gives his new spaces a
feeling of incremental accretion, rather than
the master-planned uniformity that makes so
many new urban spaces look sterile.
The organic urban designs, as espoused by
Alexander and others, can bend with the
wind, be pruned and grafted, will adapt to
the prevailing conditions and many other
plant-like analogies. In his Schumacher lecture
of 2004 (partial transcript available from
www.livingneighbourhoods.org), Alexander
argued that what he calls the morphogenetic
approach to urban design is the only true
form of built-environment sustainability,
because it produces a wholeness for the
future that is the physical manifestation of
our social and cultural aspirations.The
concept of morphogenesis is a biological
one, to explain that any living organism is an
evolving system in which what is changing in
the organism is always drawn from the form
of what was in the moment just before. He
points out that traditional societies always
took a morphogenetic approach to the

development of the built environment:


Whatever it was, it was shaped, modified,
shaped again, and adjusted and so on and so
forth. As a result of the morphogenesis and
the complex adaptation that was possible
under these conditions, the places people
made had life (Alexander 2004b p6). He
then goes on to give an example of the
morphogenetic evolution of St Marks
Square in Venice, one of the most beautiful
public spaces in the world.
So if this organic, incremental approach to
urban design appears to lead to so much
more people-friendly environments, why do
we do so little of it? Part of the answer lies
in the way we have set up the suite of builtenvironment professions and the legislation
that supports (or inhibits) them. As Brand
(1994) points out, very few architects and
planners revisit the developments they
helped to form to see how they have fared
over the years.The cynic would argue that
they dont want to have their noses rubbed
in the mess they have created, but there is a
more sober interpretation, which is that
there is just no incentive for them to go
back and see how their buildings and spaces
have learnt. Even if they could be persuaded
to go back there is the likelihood that in
their arrogance they will blame the users for
not treating their creations correctly
(according to the instructions and ideology)
or, if they are humble enough to admit their
mistakes, there will be no money left to
modify things, as the snagging period will
have long since expired. On top of this is all
the suffocating legislation, from planning

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How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces?

through to building codes and regulations,


which create a very rigid system of
predetermined strategies and designs.
As Alexander (2004b p6) comments:
The idea that we have inherited from the
thinking of the last years is that when you
build something, you make a plan which is so
detailed that it can become a specification for
a contractor and protect you in a court of law
if something goes wrong with a particular line
of bolts.This legal reasoning began to dominate
architecture and construction and as a result
of accepting it, we slipped into a fiction which
was that it is actually possible to make a
blueprint of a piece of the environment, or the
completed environment, and have it work. Now
this is a fiction.
People who use the built environments
created by the professionals are usually
desperate to modify and personalize their
surroundings.The most obvious
manifestation of this is the imprinting of
desire lines along circulation routes not
predetermined by the urban designers the
trampled flower bed on the shortest route
to the main entrance of a public building or
the muddy corner short cut on the way out
of a landscaped car park (see Brand 1994
p187). Boudon (1969), a social researcher,
visited a Le Courbusier-designed housing
estate 40 years after it had been completed,
to find a whole range of adaptations to the
buildings and spaces, nearly all of which
would be regarded as impurities by the
original designer.

Given that human beings are eager to adapt


and personalize their environments
incrementally and that the results have so
much more character, usability and soul,
surely we should be encouraging this more
organic approach to urban design. Such
places are likely to be better used and cared
for (just think of St Marks Square in Venice,
which evolved over hundreds of years), yet
we are still producing too many sterile places
resulting from top-down, blueprint thinking.
Most European countries have abandoned
the wholesale clearance and rebuild
approach that characterized the immediate
post-war period, but we are still not very
good at developing healthy and tasteful
places.Through education, modified
legislation and more post-occupancy
evaluation, aligned with a different resourcing
system, it should be possible to operate a
more organic regime to produce urban
designs capable of adaptation, rather than
rigid schemes that cost dearly when they are
found to be defective.

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Case Study: Ciutat Vella, Barcelona

In the last 25 years, Barcelona has moved from a place deliberately held back by the Franco
dictatorship to become one of the most progressive cities in Europe. Of particular interest,
from an urban space point of view, are the improvements to the ancient central area, the
Ciutat Vella, and especially El Raval, the area immediately to the west of La Rambla.The Ciutat
Vella is a densely populated part of the city, consisting mostly of old apartment buildings
rising up to five storeys above stores and workshops, built along very narrow streets.To the
east of the famous Rambla (an iconic public space in its own right) lies the Barri Gotic, an
ancient neighbourhood punctuated with a number of convivial spaces, such as Plaa del Pi.
Further down La Rambla, Plaa Reial is a formal, arcaded square that despite its pleasant
appearance had a reputation for crime and antisocial activities. As a result of some
refurbishment and a constant police presence, it is now a much safer place, lined with cafes
and public seating.

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Figure 88 Plaa del Pi.This square is regularly filled with market stalls, cafe tables and buskers

The whole of El Raval, on the other side of La Rambla, was considered a no-go area for many
years. Despite its historic status, the neighbourhood was dominated by drug dealers and
users, prostitutes and petty criminals. Since the 1980s the municipality has intervened
drastically to normalize the area, with some considerable success at least in the northern
half of the neighbourhood.The
intervention has mostly consisted of
selective demolition and rebuilding of
some parts to create new urban spaces,
workplaces (such as new university
buildings, publishing offices and galleries)
and new homes for residents of the
cleared buildings who wanted to stay in
the area.The most striking change is the
creation of several new public squares
(usually with car parking underneath),
Figure 89 Plaa Reial: police presence, but a pity
formed by the removal of entire blocks
they feel they have to sit in their cars!
of problematic tenements.

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Figure 90 Plaa Reial: New street


furniture has offered both formal
and informal sitting opportunities

Thanks to its close working relationship with community organizations and its commitment to
accommodating the existing resident population, the programme of improvement in El Raval
seems to be succeeding in upgrading the area without the wholesale gentrification process
that occurs in many other high-value inner urban areas in Europe.

Figure 91 Rambla del Raval: a new square created by the demolition of a complete city block of old buildings

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Figure 92 Plaa dels Angels.This square, created next to the new Contemporary Art Museum in the heart of
El Raval, has proved to be a popular gathering place for young people

Figure 93 Plaa de les Caramelles: a new square primarily for the residents of the new social housing blocks
that surround it

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Comfort
Seating
Probably the single most important provision
to ensure a successful public space is a
sufficient range of opportunities for sitting.
William Whytes (1988) groundbreaking
research into successful public spaces tested
various possibilities, such as location and size,
to establish what were the key factors that
differentiated successful (i.e. well-used) public
spaces from unsuccessful ones. He
concluded: No matter how many other
variables we checked, one basic point kept
coming through. We at last recognized that it
was the major one: People tend to sit most
where there are places to sit (p110).

Figure 94 Central Bristol

Figure 95 Sheffield

But despite the willingness of people to


apparently sit almost anywhere (Figure 94),
the built environment is littered with seating
of the wrong type, in the wrong place, with
the result that it is rarely used (Figure 95):
The main problem seems to be that public
space designers and providers not only
provide the wrong type of sitting
opportunities, but, crucially, they put fixed
seating in the wrong places (Figures 96, 97).

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Figure 96 Birmingham
Figure 97 Budapest

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Generally people sitting down like to


observe rather than be observed
(particularly from behind), so seats without a
wall or other barrier behind them are likely
to be underused (Figure 98).
As with shoes, for seating there is no one
size fits all. Different people require different
seating types and locations according to
circumstances.Therefore it is important to
provide a range of seating opportunities in
any public space and for seating to be
flexible and adaptable.
In many cases, the best seating does not
actually consist of custom-designed benches
or chairs, rather horizontal surfaces that

serve multiple functions. Broad steps are a


classic example of this (Figures 99, 100).
Orientation is a crucial factor as to whether
steps (and other horizontal sitting surfaces)
will become popular. In northern climates
they should be south-facing to catch the sun;
in southern climates the converse is true.
They should also offer some kind of
spectacle usually a street scene as steps
in particular make an ideal grandstand.
Conventional seating arrangements, with
suitable protection behind, may appeal to
older people (Figure 101).

Figure 98 Temple Quarter, Bristol

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Figure 99 Budapest

Figure 100 Bristol

Figure 101 Barcelona

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Vantage points
As mentioned earlier, one of the things that
people enjoy about public space is to be
able to watch the world go by or more
specifically to observe other people. For this
reason, good vantage points are cherished,
even if it means subverting the conventional
arrangements for seating and use.
This seems to be a universal phenomenon,
as Figures 102108 demonstrate. It is
therefore important that seats and their
surroundings should be designed to allow
this, rather than assume that people will only
sit in the obvious place.

Figure 102 Barcelona

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Figure 103 Bristol

Figure 104 Vietnam


Source:
Vietnam photo: Kathy Sykes

Figure 105 Krakow

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Figure 106 Padua

Figure 107 Padua

Figure 108 Bristol

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Shelter and protection


The vagaries of the climate mean that in
many areas seating will need to be at least
partially protected from cold winds or bright
sunshine. As Figures 109112 show, there
are various innovative approaches, from
partial screening right up to total enclosure
and creation of a winter garden.
Figure 109 Glass-fronted seating area, Bristol

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Figure 110 Canopy over seating, Budapest


Figure 111 Traditional shelter, Minehead, Somerset

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Figure 112 Winter Garden, Sheffield

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Movable seating
One of the most exciting possibilities with
seating is to provide chairs that users can
move about and group as they wish (Whyte
1988). At a stroke this overcomes the
difficulty that urban designers have of
locating seating appropriately. Different
people will want to sit in different ways
according to who they are with and the
weather conditions, for example. Generally it
is thought that movable seating can only be
provided in areas that can be secured at
night (for example the Jardin du
Luxembourg, Paris, and Parade Gardens,
Bath, Figures 113 and 114).

Figure 113 Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

However there are examples where


movable seating has been provided in
completely permeable public areas, such as
the River Danube waterfront walk in
Budapest, where cast-iron seats, which can
be dragged into new positions but would be
difficult to run away with, have been
provided (Figure 115).
Lennard and Lennard (1995 p46) describe
how the city of Munich took the bold and
imaginative step of providing movable chairs
in a couple of its central squares: Critics who
warned that the chairs would be stolen or
vandalised have, happily, been proved wrong.
The chairs are enormously popular and have
contributed significantly to the success of
Munichs pedestrian zone.

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Figure 114 Parade Gardens, Bath

Figure 115 Budapest, Hungary

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Leaning
Sometimes people dont want to go as far as
to sit down, either because they want to
survey the scene from a standing position or
because they are only intending to pause
briefly. Leaning places are therefore a small
but valued part of the public realm (see
Whyte 1980).These leaning opportunities
usually are a by-product of their core
function, which may be a piece of public art,
plinth, bollard or suitable wall.
Figure 116 Venice

Figure 117 Padua

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Comfort breaks
It is hardly the most glamorous of subjects
for urban designers and policy makers to
deal with, but adequate provision of suitable
public toilets is part of the fundamental
infrastructure for successful public spaces
(see Greed 2003). Many local authorities
seem to regard public toilets as a liability
(and drain on their resources), rather than
an asset and there has been a worrying
trend of closure over the last few decades.
Inadequate toilet provision has a particularly

Figure 118 Park Gell, Barcelona

discriminatory effect against older people,


those with children and people with
disabilities (Holland et al 2007).

Eating and drinking


Food and drink outlets can attract people to
a public space.These can range from cafes
and bars with outside tables to portable
refreshment kiosks where people can get
takeaways to be consumed in adjacent sitting
areas.

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There could also be suitable places for


picnics, even if not specifically designated as
such. Such spaces either need grass or
suitable perching places, some shelter (from
sun or wind) and a reasonable aspect.
Sometimes the mere addition of a food
outlet and a few tables can transform
somewhere into a convivial space, as the
photograph of a vacant building lot in Berlin
demonstrates (Figure 120).

Figure 119 Picnickers, Lisbon, Portugal


Figure 120 Impromptu food court, East Berlin

One important factor to be considered is


the provision of suitable litter bins and their
regular emptying. Public spaces can rapidly
appear unappealing if they are strewn with
discarded food and drink containers or
overflowing bins.
A disturbing trend in the UK has been the
imposition of by-laws to prohibit the
consumption of alcohol in designated public
spaces.This is a blunt instrument aimed at
banning street drinking alcoholics from the
public realm, but it potentially affects all of us.
And as Ken Worpole (2007) points out,
street-drinkers are citizens too and, as long
as they are causing no harm to others, they
should have a legitimate right to frequent
public space. He goes on to suggest that by
deregulating some public spaces or parts of
them, this looseness or slackness could
perform a necessary and useful social
function.This could also apply to groups of
young people who just want to hang out or
skateboard.

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Case Study: Berlin


Since German reunification in 1990, Berlin has been the subject of a huge amount
of reconstruction, particularly in the former east zone where the following two
examples of remodelled public space are situated.

Potsdamer Platz
The Potsdamer Platz, not far from the
Brandenburg Gate (and therefore at the
heart of reunified Berlin), has been
completely remodelled as a primarily
commercial area (offices, retail and
leisure) but with a significant public space
component.

Figure 121 A winning combination of public art,


water and eating opportunities

The most intriguing of these quasi-public


spaces is the Sony Centre, which has
been constructed from scratch as a huge,
semi-enclosed town square (see Flierl
2002, Leier 2004). Although this centre is
an open access space, with places where
people can just hang out, Flierl (2002
p24) is critical of its primarily
consumption-based and controlled
function, describing it as being conceived
along the lines of Disneyland, as a theme
park its theme was city and downtown,
but it is not a real city and downtown,
only a virtual one.

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Figure 122 Huge all-age see-saws


Figure 123 Sony Centre

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Marzahn
A very different location is Marzahn, a
former East German housing estate at
the easternmost fringe of the Berlin
conurbation. A concerted attempt was
made by the Berlin municipality to bring
colour, variety and vitality to this dreary
peripheral neighbourhood, in order to
prevent its slide into undesirability and
decline. As well as work on remodelling
the housing, considerable effort was put
into creating lively and intriguing public
spaces.
The whole regeneration project was
subtitled der Stadtteil mit Farbe (the
neighbourhood with colour), to
emphasize the principle of bringing
colour and delight into peoples lives by
adding actual colour to the built fabric
such a simple but effective approach.

Figure 124 Seating and public art rolled into one

Figure 125 Mosaic mural and flower planting

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Figure 126 Sandpit and colourful housing as a backdrop


Figure 127 Play space enlivened by murals

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Joy

Hard and soft landscaping

One of the characteristics that differentiates


successful from avoided public spaces (and
indeed is at the heart of the notion of
conviviality) is the range of opportunities
they provide for the experience of joy or
delight. Some of this pleasure is achieved by
watching or interacting with other people,
but this can be enhanced by providing focal
points to draw people in and encourage
them to linger.This can be achieved broadly
in three ways through the provision of
good hard and soft landscaping, public art
and entertainment. As well as being ends in
themselves, they often provide the catalyst
for an impromptu conversation between
strangers.

The selection of the right kind of surfacing


and cladding materials can have a substantial
effect on the success of a public space.Vast
areas of concrete and tarmac do not offer
much delight, yet these are the principle
surfacing materials in too many public spaces.
Materials need to look good, yet be durable,
as a successful public space will get a lot of
usage. High quality materials such as marble
and granite, although expensive, may prove
to be economical in the long term, as they
are more resistant to wear and weathering.

Figure 128 Zurich, Switzerland

Soft landscaping (in the form of plants,


shrubs and trees), can be a great source of
delight, as well as offering health and

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practical benefits (see for example Kaplan


and Kaplan 1989, Hough 1989). Wellconsidered planting can: soften the hardness
of surrounding buildings, frame views and
vistas, provide boundary treatments,
moderate pollution, have a calming effect on
users, introduce variety and seasonal
difference and offer a more comfortable
microclimate.This latter point is a particular
bonus of deciduous trees; in the summer

Figure 129 Neals Yard, Covent Garden, London

they offer shade from bright sunlight and in


the winter they shed their leaves to
maximize the availability of natural light.

Colour
It should also be remembered that colour
brings joy, particularly in northern climates
where grey skies and low light predominate
for much of the year (Mahnke 1987).

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When asked, people prefer colourful


environments (see Duttmann et al 1981).Yet
most architecture and urban design is
drearily monochromatic. It seems as though
designers have enough to think about
without the added complication of colour,
when for a remarkably small capital outlay,
buildings and spaces can be transformed
through the imaginative use of colour (see
Marzahn, Berlin case study).
Figure 130 Burano,Veneto region

When Albania, the poorest country in


Europe, became liberated from Soviet
control, the mayor of the capital city wanted
to brighten up peoples lives, so he did it
literally by the cheap but highly visible
transformation of the existing built
environment through colourful painting of
exterior surfaces.
When people are left to their own devices
in the built environment, one of the first
things they will do is brighten up their
surroundings with paint and murals. One of

Figure 131
Tirana, Albania
Source:
Tobias Woldendorp

the most famous examples of this is Burano


in the Venetian lagoon, where local fishermen
have competed with each other to paint
their houses brightly.
In Vienna, renegade artist Friedensreich
Hundertwasser was encouraged by an
enlightened mayor to remodel buildings and
structures using colour and soft landscaping,
with spectacular results (see Figure 132
overleaf; also Kliczkowski 2003).

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Figure 132 Hundertwasser House,Vienna


Source: Angela Hull

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Public art
Public art is a well-established presence in
public space. Historically, this has been of the
monumental kind, usually to commemorate
some great event or famous person.This
triumphalist approach has, in the last few
decades, been increasingly replaced by a
more populist and often witty type of art
(see Lennard and Lennard 1995). Usually this
will consist of a sturdy sculpture or mural.

Figure 133 Grafton Street, Dublin

Figure 134 Millennium Square, Bristol

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Figure 135 Rue du Midi, Brussels

In Brussels the city administration has a


proactive policy of commissioning murals to
brighten up drab gable end walls throughout
the city centre (Figure 135).
Rather more contentious is the notion of
informal public art, which usually takes the
form of graffiti or stencilling.There are mixed
views about whether such works constitute
vandalism or art and this will vary according
to the quality of the result. However, there is
a danger that authorities take a blanket stand
against any form of guerrilla art, when some
of it actually enhances the public realm, as
can be seen in Figures 136138.

Figure 136 This mural by the artist Banksy appeared


without permission in central Bristol and has
subsequently become a visitor attraction

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Figure 137 This graffiti in a Paris street has brightened up a drab concrete end wall

Figure 138 This huge mural in Zaragoza was painted on a partially demolished structure that was to be
redeveloped

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Public art fixtures (such as murals and


sculptures) need to be robust and resilient
and should not offer invitations to
defacement.The rather brutal sculpture in a
Lisbon street (Figure 139) has been made
even less attractive by graffiti and fly-posting.
Public art should have an immediate appeal
and not be so esoteric that citizens do not
know what it is.

Figure 139 Lisbon, Portugal

The rather miserable-looking seating


sculpture in Edinburgh reminded me of the
importance of context when furnishing the
built environment. Concrete is not much fun
to lie on in Scotland it is too cold and
damp, whereas an almost identical structure I
came across in Barcelona was hugely popular
presumably the weather made it more
comfortable to lounge on.

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Figure 140 Is it a seat? Is it a sculpture? Holyrood, Edinburgh


Figure 141 Sculptural recliner: Barcelona waterfront, with Frank Gehrys big fish sculpture in the background

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Entertainment
As with public art, there has been a long
history of street entertainment.This can
consist of formal events such as festivals and
bandstand concerts, or through the enabling
of busking and informal events such as brica-brac stalls and demonstrations. Such events
often make city administrators nervous as
they are not predictable and can be messy.
However, they are a low-cost way to bring
public spaces to life with the minimum of
regulation, they can offer substantial social
and democratic benefits.

Figure 142 La Rambla, Barcelona


Figure 143 Street band, Krakow, Poland

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A number of municipal administrations have


set up licensing (e.g. Covent Garden, London,
and Bath) or simple regulatory contracts
(e.g. Berne in Switzerland) to ensure the
quality and benignity of street entertainment.
However, except in areas of high demand,
street entertainment is usually self-regulatory,
insofar as people will soon lose interest in
poor quality acts and any behaviour which
causes substantial offence can always be
dealt with by existing laws.

Figure 144 Folk dancing, Budapest

It is therefore surprising that more street


entertainment is not encouraged, whether
proactively by organizing events or simply by
designating spaces for buskers and so on, as
it is an almost no-cost way to bring colour,
joy and delight to public spaces and there
seems to be an endless potential supply of
artists and performers eager to exercise
their talents in public. Perhaps this is a case
of nobody in most municipalities actually
having the responsibility or inclination to
encourage this kind of animation.

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Case Study: Bristol

Bristol, in south-west England, has a


population of 400,000.The central area is
particularly well endowed with public spaces,
both old and new.

Figure 145 Queen Square

Queen Square was completed


in Georgian times and is a
large formal square. Although
visually impressive, it is
underused for much of the
time. Additional seating has
been put in, but it only really
comes alive when special
events are mounted there.
Part of the problem is that it is
probably too large to be a
convivial space; the other
problem is that nearly all the
terraced buildings surrounding
the square are used as offices,

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so there is very little life to


spill out on to the open space
except at lunchtimes.
The St Nicholas Markets area
is a partially covered Victorian
space, which benefits from a
wide variety of activities,
including cafes and stalls, with
the result that during daylight
hours it is always buzzing with
activity.

Figure 146 St Nicholas Markets

Figure 147 College Green

Figure 148 Centre Promenade

College Green is sandwiched


between the Council House
(Town Hall), the cathedral and
one of Bristols main shopping
streets. Despite its relatively
bland design, its central
location and degree of
greenery makes it one of
Bristols most successful
gathering places, particularly
for young people, but also for
all ages.The Green was vastly
improved by the removal of a
through road that passed
between the Council House
and the cathedral (along the
left-hand side of Figure 147).
Until 2000, the Centre
Promenade was essentially the
centre of a huge traffic
circulation system.The space
was extensively remodelled
with new seating, planting and
a water feature (the latter

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being rather ironic insofar as


the space is a huge concrete
slab spanning part of the
ancient harbour). Attempts
were made to downgrade and
slow the traffic but this has
not been entirely successful,
with the result that this is still
a noisy and somewhat
exposed place to be.

Figure 149 Millennium Square

Figure 150 Millennium Square

Millennium Square and its


linked neighbour, Anchor
Square, are recent additions to
Bristols cityscape.The Square
straddles a large underground
car-park and this has limited
the amount of feasible soft
landscaping.The result is a big
shiny space that has a rather
clinical feel to it. Its saving
grace is a number of water
features which are popular
cooling-off and paddling places
when the weather is warm.

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Managing and
Maintaining Public
Spaces
Arguably, the way public spaces are managed
(and animated) is as crucial to their success
as their physical attributes. As suggested in
the section on inclusion versus exclusion
(page 16), places can be managed with a
heavy or light touch. Some commentators
(see for example Wood 1981, Holland et al
2007) note that if places are over-regulated
in an oppressive manner they become less
convivial and, indeed, quite intimidating, even
for people who are there perfectly legally.
The widespread use of CCTV in the UK has
come under some criticism, not only from
civil liberties groups, but also from those
who have questioned its value as a crime
prevention tool (see Shaftoe 2002, Welsh
and Farrington 2002).

Figure 151 CCTV monitoring centre, southern


England

Similarly, heavy formal policing of public


spaces can make them feel uncomfortable
for certain users.
Figure 152 South-west England

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Of course, in places notorious for illegal or


intimidating activity, it may be necessary, at
least for a while, to resort to formal social
control, as for example in Barcelonas Plaa
Reial see case study on page 88.

Figure 153 Park keepers, Padua

Figure 154 Park keepers, Bologna

In response to the perceived need to have


more eyes on the streets the Dutch
Government supported municipalities in the
training and appointment of city guards
(stadswachten).These were people, often
from the long-term unemployed register,
who were trained, put in uniforms and then
given the task of advising and reassuring
members of the public, while patrolling
streets, public spaces and public transport.
This approach spread to other European
states and arrived in the UK under the guise
of street wardens, eventually taking the role
of Police Community Support Officers in
many British towns.
As mentioned earlier (see page 21), a
number of British cities have taken other
innovative approaches to managing and
policing their public spaces by employing
street wardens or ambassadors uniformed
staff who can provide advice and
reassurance to users of public spaces, while
also dealing with day-to-day management
issues.
In some Italian cities, even more innovative
approaches have been taken in terms of
staffing public space.The city of Padua
employs retired people on a part-time basis
to keep an eye on their urban parks, while in
Bologna volunteers are recruited from
immigrant groups to act as park keepers.This
latter approach achieves a double benefit of
both providing a reassuring official presence
in public spaces and altering indigenous
citizens stereotypical view of immigrants as
being potentially problematic.

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Worpole and Knox (2007) note that


citizens have a remarkable capacity for
self-regulation. As long as a public space is
not totally out of control or completely
dominated by one faction, members of the
public normally find ways of accommodating
their different needs and informally enforcing
acceptable behaviour.
Another successful UK management initiative
in recent years has been the appointment
of town-centre managers. Although they
often have a remit to improve the economic
prospects of town centres, obviously this
can include improving the quality and
attractiveness of the public realm. In some
cases (Bristol being an example) councils
employ people specifically to strategically
manage the city-centre public spaces. Public
art officers could also potentially improve
the quality of life in public space, particularly
if their remit could extend to the promotion
of street entertainment and impromptu
cultural activities rather than just visual art.
Good public space management is about
more than making places safe and crimefree; it should also be proactive in several
ways, encouraging or initiating interesting
activities, ensuring adequate maintenance
and repair of the physical fabric and
initiating micro-adjustments in the light of
observable use.
Taking the latter point first, town-centre
managers and others responsible for the
ongoing management of public space, unlike
architects, urban designers and planners

(who produce their designs and then walk


away), have an interest in the day-to-day and
long-term viability of spaces.They are
therefore well placed to make or request
the necessary adjustments and modifications
that are inevitably necessary during the
lifespan of any public space. Examples might
be realignment of footpaths to reflect desire
lines, provision of extra litter bins and
benches in certain locations, adjusting signage
or incorporating new planting. In fact public
spaces can fail, or fail to meet their full
potential, because nobody takes a holistic
view of how they can be modified according
to use and needs. It is highly unlikely that, in
the case of new public spaces, the designers
will have got every detail right at first, yet
there is rarely any budget or allowance made
for post-occupancy evaluation and
subsequent modifications.
However durable the fabric of a public space
is, it will inevitably deteriorate over time as a
result of wear and tear and vandalism, unless
it is regularly and consistently maintained.
Quick repairs not only show that a place is
cared for, but will often thwart further
deterioration (Kelling and Coles 1996). One
example is offensive graffiti and tagging
speedy removal (possibly with the
application of anti-graffiti coatings) has been
shown to deter further spraying, as offenders
do not have the time to celebrate their
markings. If damaged street furniture is not
fixed, further damage will escalate, as the
environment deteriorates into a free-for-all
target for destruction (see Zimbardo 1973).
Even something as relatively simple (yet so

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Convivial Urban Spaces

often neglected) as regularly emptying litter


bins and clearing up strewn rubbish can have
a crucial effect on the quality and perception
of public spaces.The problem here is often
that, in the absence of people such as park
keepers, no one is actually monitoring and
then reacting to the overall condition of
public spaces on a daily basis.
In Denmark, Germany and other continental
European countries, there is a continuing
traditional trade of streetbuilder
(Strassenbauer in German) someone skilled
in all the interconnected elements of
maintaining public outdoor space. In the UK

Figure 155 St Marks Square,Venice

there is generally no such urban caretaker


who has overall responsibility for the upkeep
of the urban realm, with the result that
maintenance and upgrading is fragmented
and incoherent, with some aspects, such as
the removal of redundant signs and
equipment, being neglected altogether
(CABE Space 2007).This is compounded by
the UK custom of providing funding for
capital expenditure, such as water features,
fancy lighting and public artworks, with very
little provision for long-term ongoing
maintenance, resulting in the deterioration of
many promising features (Brand 1994,
Gallacher 2005).

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How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces?

The final point about management (also


mentioned earlier, page 120) is the potential
of public space managers to create or
facilitate lively and intriguing activity
sometimes known as animation of spaces.
This can be as simple as licensing or allowing
street entertainers and vendors, or as
complex as organizing large public events
such as fairs and festivals.
Although free festivals in public spaces need
subsidizing, this can often be justified and
achieved as a result of the extra economic
benefits they bring to the town (through
more visitors staying and spending).
However, many of these animations need
not cost very much and may indeed be selffunding. For example, a soup festival in
Krakow, Poland, fills the squares and streets
of the Jewish Quarter simply as a result of all
the local cafes and restaurants offering free
soup.They make up any losses by the
substantially increased sale of drinks and
other food. Free music from buskers and
local bands adds to the ambience. Another
example is the Streets Alive event held
annually in Bristol, where environmental
groups are allowed to reclaim selected
streets and turn them into living rooms for
the day.
All in all, the way public spaces are managed
and animated is as important as design and
location in the creation and maintenance of
conviviality in the public realm.

Figure 156 Folklore festival in central square,Viana


de Castelo, northern Portugal

Figure 157 Streets Alive festival, Bristol

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Case Study: Padua

Padua (Padova in Italian) is a typical


medium-sized city (about 400,000
population in the greater urban area) in
the Veneto region of Northern Italy. It has
a series of classic Italian piazza in the
historic central area and an extensive
programme of pedestrianization that has
made it into a very people-friendly city.
However, enlightened urban space planning
has not reached out to the suburbs where
some of the new public spaces are as
dismal as anywhere in Europe.

Figure 158 Piazza dei Signori: one of a series of


linked central squares

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How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces?

Figures 159 and 160 Prato della Valle,one of Europes largest urban squares, was a place better known in
Padua for drug dealing and other antisocial activities until overgrown vegetation was removed and tree crowns
were raised. It is now a safe and successful gathering place both by day and night

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Figures 161 and 162 Many central streets have been pedestrianized, with cafes and bookstalls taking over
the spaces formerly occupied by vehicles (Via Soncin, above;Via Roma, below)

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How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces?

Outside the central area, public spaces


rapidly lose their conviviality.

Figure 163 This plaza in front of a new


development on the edge of the historic centre
could be anywhere and is used by no one

Figures 164 and 165 Public space in the


Selvazzano suburb of Padua has been virtually
abandoned not surprising when the local
authority has erected a sign forbidding almost
every kind of playful activity

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Case Study:York

York has a population of 180,000 and is a


historic city where the Viking and
Roman settlements were overlaid by a
medieval street pattern that forms the
basis of the current layout within the city
walls. As an ancient market and
administrative centre it has an abundance
of central public spaces. Most of these
spaces have been in situ for hundreds of
years, but one new space, St Marys

Square, has been created and appears to


be successful, nestling as it does among a
mixture of old buildings and some
reasonably sympathetic new ones.York
has the benefit of being a tourist
destination and thus can sustain a high
level of street animation, although it
should be pointed out that all but one of
its central squares predate the tourist
influx.

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Figures 166 and 167 Trampolining and busking in Parliament Square

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Figures 168 and 169 King Square

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How Can One Create and Sustain Successful Public Spaces?

As with so many other historic cities,


public spaces in the areas of new
development (see, for example, Figure
75 on page 72) have been much less
successful than in the historic core.
It may be that, as illustrated in the
Glasgow experiment described by
Gallacher (2005), public space can only
be truly successful in dense, mixed-use
urban cores.This is borne out in York,
where the new St Marys Square in the
heart of the old town has proved to be
a convivial space.

Figure 170 St Marys Square: a new space and


part of the Coppergate redevelopment

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CONCLUSION

The Constituents of
Conviviality
his section aims to pull together and
summarize many of the points raised
earlier in the book.

I suggest that there is no single blueprint for


a convivial space, but successful spaces do
seem to share some common elements.
These may be broadly categorized under the
headings of physical (including design and
practical issues), geographical, managerial and
psychological and sensual (how the space
affects our mind, spirit and senses). As with
most attempts at categorization, there is
some overlap as some elements may be
listed under more than one category; so in
order to create some order out of an
otherwise random list, the elements are
categorized as follows:

Physical
Plenty of sitting places (not
necessarily formal fixed benches)
Good quality and robust successful
public spaces will get a lot of wear and
tear. Investing in high quality, durable
materials will save money in the long
term
Adaptable (both for different uses and
over time) organic, incremental, finegrained development copes with the

inevitable changes affecting public space


and allows it to go on thriving
Asymmetrical, yet well
proportioned (balance without
symmetry) most successful public
spaces are not completely rectilinear,
often because they have grown and
evolved in response to the topography
and dynamics of the surrounding area
Variety and intriguing details (i.e.
not monolithic) this should comprise
interesting landscaping, including plants,
shrubs and trees, and intriguing use of
colour and/or texture on built vertical
surfaces
Carefully considered and
appropriate horizontal surface
treatments for both practical and
aesthetic reasons; these are particularly
important where there are changes in
level, in order that no one should be
disadvantaged by their physical ability or
needs
Not too large or too small!

Geographical
Location (urban core, neighbourhood
or suburb) generally public spaces
work best when they are reasonably
central, either in a town or
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Convivial Urban Spaces

neighbourhood, and are at the


convergence of routes that people use
for other purposes.They also work
better when they are surrounded by
mixed uses rather than monocultures
such as offices or housing
Type of neighbourhood and
surrounding areas new public
spaces are sometimes used to attempt
to regenerate downtown or formerly
problematic areas. However, if the
immediate surroundings are still
perceived as unsafe or neglected, people
are unlikely to go there or run the risk of
lingering there
Clusters, sequences and strings of
spaces as the case studies show, many
of the most successful urban cores have
more than one public space, allowing for
variety of use and the pleasure of
moving through a cityscape
Relation to transport (motorized
and pedestrian routes) unless they are
just for people living in the immediate
surroundings, good public spaces will
need to be easily accessible by all means
of transport, but should not be
dominated by their presence

Managerial
Diversity of use people need a
variety of reasons to gather and linger
Promotion of a relaxed, round-theclock culture there is a fine balance
to attain between ensuring security and
imposing excessive surveillance that
makes people feel uncomfortable on

the whole people are good at policing


themselves, so the best management
encourages a variety of people to be
using the space at all times.There needs
to be sufficient but not oppressive
supervision so that crime risk and
incivilities are kept under control
Inclusiveness ideally everyone
should feel welcome in a good public
space, even if parts of it have dedicated
group activities (such as play spaces or
skateboarding opportunities)
Well maintained and clean a place
that is obviously cared for will be much
more popular than one that looks
neglected. Lack of adequate maintenance
also leads to tipping: an escalation of
damage and deterioration (e.g. graffiti
tagging that is not swiftly removed will
encourage more; if rubbish is not cleared
up promptly, users will not hesitate to
dump more)
Vehicular circulation banned or
tightly controlled
Adequately lit
Animation there should be
opportunities for plenty of human
activity, such as stalls, busking,
skateboarding, picnicking, as people
attract people.These mixed activities
should be encouraged rather than
deterred

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Conclusion:The Constituents of Conviviality

Psychological and sensual


Human scale people seem to enjoy
a sense of enclosure without feeling
claustrophobic. Huge structures
(whether they be walls or buildings) and
vast open spaces may be awe-inspiring,
but they are unlikely to facilitate a feeling
of conviviality
Individuality and uniqueness
places with distinctive character and
identity become positively memorable
and may attract repeat visits. People will
have the sense that they are in a unique
place.This will result in a space that is
complex, but coherent
Feeling of safety (unthreatening)
this can be achieved through design and
the management of the space, and is also
perceived by observing the behaviour of
others
Comfortable microclimate both
sun and shade and protection from cold
winds (but encouragement of cooling
breezes in hot climates!)
Visually satisfactory not too
dazzling or gloomy
Incorporation of natural elements
(e.g. plants, trees, water)
Acoustically pleasant not too
much mechanical noise (so you can talk),
but not so quiet that you can be
overheard
No bad smells preferably pleasant
aromas (such as coffee, fresh baking or
flowers)
Opportunities to eat and drink
self-catering and purchasable

I am not suggesting that to qualify as a


completely convivial space all the above
elements should be present, but a high
proportion of them contribute to the
spaces I have observed as working well.
Furthermore, the way in which these
qualities combine to please the human
consciousness is not an exact science.There
are clearly some objective considerations,
such as even paved surfaces, seating or
loitering locations, adequate lighting,
amenable microclimate and safety from
motor traffic. However, beyond these are
many subjective effects that the design, layout
and animation of a place may have on the
degree of personal comfort and delight.
Different people will be affected by different
combinations of elements to some extent,
but there appears to be a core set of
attributes that will please more or less
anyone.The nearest analogy might be the
experience of a good novel, movie or piece
of music everybody has different tastes,
but there is wide agreement about which
are the classics. Indeed, many of the bullet
points above could, metaphorically, be
applied to quality literature, cinema or music.

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Convivial Urban Spaces

Finally, here are some very practical and


specific things that the designers and
maintainers of public spaces can do and
avoid doing, in order to achieve the best
possible spaces:
Do:
design the open spaces at the same time
as you design or redesign the buildings
and other structures, rather than
regarding the space as whats left over
after the buildings have gone up
design with safety and security in mind
consider the effect of the space on all
the senses (and not just visually)
consult residents or potential users (all
age groups). What do they like and
dislike? What problems do they perceive?
What do they want? What would they
like to change?
follow desire lines for footpaths (it may
be necessary to do this retrospectively)
provide a variety of sitting opportunities
(not just fixed benches)
think about the microclimate and
provide protection and shelter as
appropriate
provide opportunities and facilities for
people to eat and drink
encourage animation of the space
through activities, formal or informal
define open spaces with trees clear
stemmed up to 3.5m. Plant specially
prepared trees of suitable species
(Advance Nursery Stock) at a minimum
size of 1416cm girth. Use support
stakes and metal bar or grille protectors
in vulnerable locations

minimize the use of shrubs, but if


necessary use species with a maximum
mature height of 1.0m
use see-through metal bar fencing (if
barriers are needed)
apply anti-graffiti coatings to accessible
vertical surfaces in vulnerable locations
consider having graffiti walls and
community noticeboards
consider having a range of designated
spaces for different age groups (e.g. play
spaces, sports equipment, youth shelters,
benches and picnic or barbeque
facilities), but make sure that they are
linked and oversee each other
install pedestrian-friendly lighting
(mounted not too high and incorporating
full colour spectrum luminaries)
have litter bins adjacent to benches,
picnic tables and shelters, and ensure
they are emptied regularly
have a rapid response system to clear up
dumping, graffiti, fly-posting and vandalism
put in place systems for regular greenery
maintenance and rubbish removal
have public toilet facilities on site or
accessible nearby
use the highest quality materials, fittings
and plants that the budget can afford
(they will save money in the long term)
Dont:
put public spaces in isolated or lowdensity locations
design spaces that result in entrapment
spots or poor surveillance
put too many restrictions on the use of
public space

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Conclusion:The Constituents of Conviviality

use low-cost or high-maintenance


materials
add features (such as public art) that will
rapidly deteriorate or break down
install hardware that invites vandalism
(e.g. flimsy street furniture or light fittings
and any kind of slatted or plank timber
fencing)
use raised planters for shrubs or trees
(they tend to get damaged and dont
collect enough surface rainwater)
use mass planting of grey or dull, dark
green leafy shrubs (theyre depressing)
plant clusters of shrubs or plants that trap
litter and make litter difficult to remove
plant trees with a mature height of less
than 10m, where casual surveillance is
required
plant flimsy trees (e.g. mountain ash or
small cherries) they either wont
survive or wont thrive
apply textured pebble-dash-type finishes
to walls and accessible vertical surfaces
(people can still spray graffiti on to them,
which is then a nightmare to remove)
plant protruding pebbles or stones into
horizontal concrete surfaces (whats the
point? yet you find them in many urban
locations as a cheap way to discourage
foot passage)
use single-leaf brickwork or blockwork
for walls and external divisions (they will
eventually get pulled down)
put public benches too close to
occupied buildings (they will provoke
noise complaints from residents) or in
locations where they are exposed from
behind

There is no standard formula for creating


convivial spaces, but many of the above dos
and donts will help. It is important to
remember that although design is important,
the size and location of the space along with
the way it is managed and animated are
equally important factors. We have much to
learn from the successful places of the past.
Although we have many new technologies
and the world has changed spectacularly in
the last 100 years, the basic human need for
conviviality has endured. It is no coincidence
that most of the worlds most popular public
spaces have been there for hundreds of
years (with some adaptation over time)
see, for example, Figures 5, 155 and 171.
With our current knowledge it should be
possible to create new convivial urban
spaces for our expanding cities, as well as
improving those which havent quite worked,
by respecting the experience of history, yet
not slavishly imitating what has gone before.

Figure 171 Grande Place, Brussels

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Internet Resources
Three websites relating to this topic (the first
British, the second European, the third American):
www.cabespace.org.uk the Commission
for Architecture and the Built Environment
(CABE) is a British quango charged with the
task of improving the quality of design,
primarily through advice and guidance.
www.spaceforpublic.org The European
Centre on Public Space, modelled loosely on
PPS (see below).
www.pps.org The Project for Public
Spaces (PPS) is an independent American
advisory and campaigning organization, that
argues for the improved quality of life that
accrues from good quality public spaces.

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Index
24 Hour City 16, 2526
adventure playgrounds 42, 42
aesthetics 33, 5663, 5659, 6163, 141
Albania 113, 113
alcohol bans 20, 23, 106
Alexander, Christopher 6, 74, 75, 81, 83, 86, 87
Algajola (Corsica) 80
ambassadors 22, 126
Amsterdam (The Netherlands) 35, 68, 71, 84
animation 2526, 120121, 120121, 129, 129, 140, 142
York (England) 134, 135
architects 11, 32, 86
Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire, England) 28
Backwell (Somerset, England) 32, 34
Barcelona (Spain) 13, 39, 58, 61, 76, 95, 96, 105
Ciutat Vella 8891, 8891
La Rambla 67, 67, 88, 120
public art 118, 119
barriers 2324, 142
Bath (Somerset, England) 103, 121
behaviour, environment and 5155, 5255
Beijing (China) 15
Berlin (Germany) 27, 37, 85, 106, 106110, 107109
Berne (Switzerland) 121
Bideford (Devon, England) 79
Birmingham 29, 29, 64, 77, 93
Bologna (Italy) 126, 126
Bordesley (Birmingham, England) 48
Bristol 7, 8, 63, 78, 122124, 122124, 127
aesthetics 56, 58, 59, 62
College Green 54, 66, 7172, 72, 123, 123
Hartcliffe 84
Knowle West 17, 17
public art 115, 116
Streets Alive festival 65, 129, 129
Brussels (Belgium) 43, 116, 116, 143
Budapest (Hungary) 93, 95, 100, 102, 103, 121
Burano (Italy) 113, 113
busking 25, 77, 120, 121, 129, 135, 140
by-laws 23, 26, 106
CABE (Commission for Architecture in the Built
Environment) 4, 14, 16, 18, 20
cafes 61, 64, 105, 105, 123, 123

pavement cafes 25, 61, 67, 68, 68, 71, 132


Cardiff (Wales) 9, 45
cars 64, 64, 80
CCTV 17, 20, 2223, 26, 125, 125
Chicago (Illinois, US) 25, 64
children 3339, 3338
city guards (stadswachten) 126
Ciutat Vella (Barcelona, Spain) 8891, 8891
civilized life 6, 12, 15, 19, 27
climate 6870, 6870
coherence 48, 54, 55, 141
College Green (Bristol, England) 54, 66, 7172, 72, 123, 123
colour 85, 86, 109, 109110, 112113, 113114, 121, 139
comfort 6061, 62, 70, 92106, 92106, 141
see also comfort breaks; eating; leaning places; seating;
shelter; vantage points
comfort breaks 105, 142
Commission for Architecture in the Built Environment see
CABE
communal gardens 78, 78
communities 1, 18, 3132, 48, 90
conflict resolution 12, 13, 84
context 17, 17, 18
control 6, 15, 2024, 77, 84, 125126
convivial spaces 3, 45, 67, 8, 66
common elements 6, 139141
human need for 78, 143
organic growth 67, 50, 81, 86, 87, 139
conviviality 1, 9, 139141, 143
Copenhagen (Denmark) 45, 15, 36, 64, 68, 83, 83
Covent Garden (London, England) 112, 121
Coventry (West Midlands, England) 22, 23, 85
covered spaces 7677, 7677, 123, 123
CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) 17
crime 15, 16, 24, 32, 60, 88, 89
designing out 16, 17, 18
crime reduction 17, 2021, 2223
criminals 24, 25
curfews 15, 19, 41
curiosity 55, 62
curves 75
Dallas (Texas, US) 6
delight 111, 121, 141
democracy 5, 12, 15, 77, 84, 120
demonstrations 13, 15, 64, 73, 77, 120

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Denmark 80, 128


Copenhagen 45, 15, 36, 64, 68, 83, 83
deployment of personnel 21, 2122, 126
see also policing
design see urban design
designated spaces 33, 33, 39, 41, 106, 142
designers 4, 11, 81, 82, 86, 87, 113
visual aesthetic 63
designing out crime 16, 17, 18
desire lines 87, 127, 142
deviance, accommodating 2627, 27
difference 5, 13, 1314, 19, 51, 84
Dijon (France) 17, 17
dispersal orders 19, 20
distribution of people 53, 53
drinking 61, 61, 105106, 105106, 141, 142
see also alcohol bans
Dublin (Ireland) 2, 55, 115
Dufferin Mall (Toronto, Canada) 3031, 30

hard landscaping 53, 78, 111


see also surface treatments
Havana (Cuba) 15, 69, 73
Hayle (Cornwall, England) 41
health 12, 19, 20, 78, 111
homeless people 25
housing estates 21, 21, 109, 109110
Hundertwasser, Friedensreich 75, 113, 114

eating 61, 61, 105106, 105106, 107, 141, 142


economic benefits 14, 20, 129
Edinburgh (Scotland) 2, 37, 38, 118, 119
electronic surveillance 17, 20, 2223, 26, 125, 125
enclosed spaces 7677, 77, 107, 107
entrapment spots 26, 55, 60, 142
environment and behaviour 5155, 5255
evaluation, post-occupancy 86, 87, 127
events 13, 122, 129, 129
exclusion 15, 16, 18, 2024, 24, 32
from shopping malls 29, 30
eyes on the street 15, 19, 126

Jacobs, Jane 2, 15, 19, 26


Jerde, John 8586, 85
joy 111121

fantasy 8586
fencing 142, 143
festivals 25, 26, 64, 65, 120, 129, 129
floorscapes 58, 5960, 59, 63
see also surface treatments
Fort Worth (Texas, US) 27
Freiburg (Germany) 3
gardens, communal 78, 78
gated spaces 6, 18, 29, 29, 32, 32
gathering places for young people 4045, 70, 70, 91, 123, 123
Gehl, Jan 20, 61, 74
gentrification 90
Germany 37, 37, 128
see also Berlin
Glasgow (Scotland) 14, 14, 72, 137
governments 12, 15, 73
gradients 59, 60
graffiti 116, 116118, 118, 127, 140, 142, 143
grass 53, 54, 66, 66
green spaces 55, 55, 78, 78
greenery 12, 78, 78, 123, 123
hanging out 3943, 3942, 44, 44, 106
happiness 12

incentive zoning system 15


inclusion 16, 18, 1920, 19, 24, 25, 3031, 140
design and 20, 26
of young people 4345
integration
of people 25, 32
of play areas 35, 35
interactions 5, 7, 13, 1920, 32, 53
interpersonal distance 52, 52, 53
intrigue 55, 62, 75, 139

Knowle West (Bristol, England) 17, 17


Krakow (Poland) 28, 35, 75, 7879, 97, 120, 129
La Rambla (Barcelona, Spain) 67, 67, 88, 120
Le Corbusier 47, 84, 87
leaning places 53, 104, 104
learning 12, 1213, 67
legal controls 20, 21, 23
legibility 4850, 49, 54
legislation 15, 86, 8687, 87
lighting 140, 141, 142
Lille (France) 25
linear parks 7879, 79
lingering places 52, 53, 60, 66, 78, 79, 79
linked spaces 73, 75, 80, 83, 130, 130133, 140, 183
Lisbon (Portugal) 61, 69, 106, 118
litigation 6, 32
litter 106, 127128, 140, 142
litter bins 49, 106, 127, 127128, 142
location of public spaces 7172, 72, 139140, 142, 143
London 3, 5, 15, 21, 25, 79, 84, 112
small spaces 73, 73
loose materials 37, 3738, 3839
Lynch, Kevin 4849, 54, 56, 74
Madrid (Spain) 74, 74, 76, 77
maintenance 33, 78, 127128, 140, 142, 142143
management of public spaces 7, 2425, 4345, 125129,
125126, 128129, 140, 142143
Marrakech (Morocco) 8, 70
Marzahn (Berlin, Germany) 109, 109110
master-planning 8184, 8485
materials, quality 111, 139, 142, 143
Melbourne (Australia) 14, 20

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Index

microclimates 58, 59, 60, 70, 112, 141, 142


Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire, England) 85
Minehead (Somerset, England) 100
mixed use 26, 48, 68, 71, 72, 140
modernism 47, 50, 84
Mono (Portugal) 80
morphogenesis 75, 81, 86
Moscow (Russia) 15, 73
movable seating 53, 102, 102103
movement through spaces 5960, 59
Munich (Germany) 102
murals 109, 110, 113, 115116, 116, 117
mystery 55, 62, 75
natural elements 62, 62, 141
natural surveillance 17, 2526, 143
The Netherlands 126
see also Amsterdam
new developments 48, 48, 72, 137
new urbanism 16, 17, 32
New York (US) 11, 15, 44
noise 57, 61, 63, 70, 78, 124, 141
Norwich (Norfolk, England) 26
observing 53, 67, 67, 68, 94, 96, 9697, 111
older people 25, 55, 94, 95, 105
open squares 76, 76
organic growth 67, 50, 81, 82, 83, 86, 87, 139
outdoor space, children 3339, 3338
over-regulation 125, 133, 142
Padua (Italy) 52, 80, 98, 104, 126, 126, 130, 130133, 133
Paris 7, 34, 74, 78, 84, 85, 102, 117
Promenade Plante 79, 79
park keepers 126, 126, 128
participation 4345, 45, 142
pavement cafes 25, 61, 67, 68, 68, 71, 132
pedestrianization 35, 35, 63, 64, 80, 80
Copenhagen (Denmark) 83, 83
Padua (Italy) 130, 132
people attracting people 6668, 6668
people-watching 53, 67, 6768, 94, 96, 9697, 111
personality 1, 7
physical barriers 2324, 142
picnicking 61, 106, 106, 140, 142
planned city movement 84
planners 32, 86
planning permission 15
planting 60, 109, 112, 112, 127, 139
see also shrubs; trees
play 28, 28, 3339, 3338
play areas 5, 3339, 3338, 109, 110, 133, 142
polarization 5, 18
police community support officers 20, 2122, 126
policing 15, 19, 20, 2021, 88, 89, 125, 125
political statements, spaces as 15, 73
pollution 6, 58, 64, 71, 78, 112
post-occupancy evaluation 86, 87, 127

Potsdamer Platz (Berlin, Germany) 85, 107, 107108


Poundbury (Dorset, England) 48, 48
private ownership 30, 7677, 77
private security 18, 18, 21, 22
privatization 5, 6, 12, 32
psychology of public space 7, 5155, 5255, 6667, 70, 141
public art 107, 109, 111, 115118, 115119, 127, 143
public spaces 1, 78, 11, 15, 73, 143
benefits 1215
location 7172, 72, 139140, 142, 143
shape 7475, 7475, 139
size 7374, 73, 122, 122, 139, 141, 143
types 7580, 7580
public toilets 105, 142
quality of life 17, 32
quality of materials 111, 139, 142, 143
reassurance 22, 60, 6667
reclaiming streets 35, 35, 80, 80, 83, 83, 129, 129
see also pedestrianization
recommendations 142143
regeneration 109, 109110, 140
repression 22, 23
risk 38, 45, 5455, 140
Rochefort (France) 63, 63
Rome (Italy) 60
Rotterdam (The Netherlands) 25
safety 15, 16, 19, 68, 140, 141, 142
community control and 3132
sense of 5455, 141
see also security
St Marks Square (Venice, Italy) 86, 87, 128
San Diego (California, US) 85
Sarlat Le Canda (France) 80
Seaside (Florida, US) 32, 48
seating 9295, 9297, 96, 109, 118, 119, 123, 123, 127, 141
location 53, 92, 93, 94, 94, 143
movable 53, 102, 102103
removal of 29, 29, 40
sheltered 99, 99101
see also sitting places
security 6, 15, 1626, 18, 140, 142
see also control; safety; surveillance
self-regulation 127, 140
sense of community 18
sense of place 63
sense of safety 5455, 141
senses 7, 5663, 5659, 6163, 141, 142
separation of populations 84
Sergels Torg (Stockholm, Sweden) 50, 50
shade 60, 68, 69, 70, 70, 76, 112, 141
shadowed spaces 2627, 27, 39
shape of public spaces 7475, 7475, 139
Sheffield (England) 22, 22, 76, 92, 101
shelter 99, 99101, 106, 142
shopping malls 7, 18, 18, 22, 77

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private ownership 30, 7677


seatless 29, 29
Toronto (Canada) 3031, 30
shrubs 60, 139, 142, 143
Siena (Italy) 4, 60
signs 49, 49, 127
sitting places 51, 53, 66, 66, 90, 92, 111, 139, 142
and climate 68, 6870
and comfort 60, 61, 92
orientation 94
see also seating
size of public spaces 7374, 73, 122, 122, 139, 141, 143
skateboarding 26, 39, 40, 45, 45, 72, 106
facilities for 43, 43, 140
slack spaces 2627, 27, 39
SLOAP (space left over after planning) 6
smells 58, 63, 70, 141
sociability of humans 6668, 6668
social aspiration 31
social capital 48
social cohesion 3132
social contact, human need for 12
soft landscaping 111, 111112, 112
see also grass; planting; shrubs; trees
solidarity 12, 13
sounds 57, 61, 62, 63, 70, 141
South Africa 19
space left over after planning (SLOAP) 6
stadswachten (city guards) 126
steps 53, 5960, 59, 94, 95
Stirling (Scotland) 34
Stockholm (Sweden) 50
straight lines 75
stranger danger 6, 33, 44
street entertainment 14, 25, 26, 111, 120121, 120121, 127
busking 25, 77, 120, 121, 129, 135, 140
street furniture 49, 49, 90, 127, 143
street parties 65
street play 35, 35
street wardens 21, 126
streetbuilders 128
streets, reclaiming 35, 35, 64, 65, 80, 129, 129
Streets Alive (Bristol, England) 65, 129, 129
sunlight 60, 112, 141
surface treatments 63, 64, 111, 139, 141, 143
sensory effect 58, 5960, 59
surveillance 15, 20, 21, 140, 142
CCTV 17, 20, 2223, 26, 125, 125
natural 17, 2526, 143
sustainability 2, 5, 12, 48, 86
Swindon (Wiltshire, England) 25
territoriality 5152
texture 58, 58, 139
Tibbalds, Francis 6, 47, 71

Tirana (Albania) 113


toilets, public 105, 142
tolerance 5, 12, 13
top-down design 84, 87
Toronto (Canada) 3031, 30
Torquay (Devon, England) 28, 70
town-centre managers 24, 127
traffic 57, 61, 63, 64, 124, 141
transport 72, 140
trees 60, 111, 131, 139, 142, 143
types of public spaces 7580, 7580
unconvivial spaces 2, 56, 8, 133
unfolding townscapes 55, 75, 80, 140
uniqueness 8586, 141
unpredictability 28, 28, 3839
urban design 67, 18, 26, 31, 32, 8187
for children and young people 4345
principles 4751
professionals 4, 11, 32, 81, 82, 86, 87
recommendations 142143
urban village approach 16, 18, 48
US (United States) 15, 19, 25, 32, 48
vandalism 20, 23, 102, 116, 127, 142, 143
vantage points 96, 9698
Venice (Italy) 8, 104
St Marks Square 86, 87, 128
Viana de Castelo (Portugal) 129
victimization 42, 43, 44, 45, 55, 68
Vienna (Austria) 75, 113, 114
Vietnam 97
virtual realities 11
water 57, 62, 6263, 79
water features 38, 39, 57, 57, 63, 107, 123124, 124
Waterford (Ireland) 79, 79
wellbeing 12, 19, 20, 78
Whyte, William 11, 20, 61, 72, 92
Winter Garden (Sheffield, England) 76, 101
Worpole, Ken 1, 11, 12, 2627, 72, 106
Wrexham (Clwyd, Wales) 42, 42
York (England) 40, 72, 80, 134, 134137, 137
young people 19, 25, 3945, 3945, 106
gathering places 4045, 70, 70, 91, 123, 123
socialization 39, 40, 41, 45
victimization of 42, 43, 44, 45, 68
youth shelters 4142, 41
Zaragoza (Spain) 57, 117
zero tolerance 23
zoning of use 4748
Zurich (Switzerland) 111